Ready for the Future

I can finally take a calm breath and relax, my semester is over. Last week, I completed my exams and handed over my MFA application. I worked as hard as I could and for now, my grades and graduate school plans are out of my control.

After all the stress and worry from fall semester, I decided to let loose and treat myself to some fun. My roommate and I threw a party, and spent Sunday night laughing and celebrating with friends. Then we decided to try something different to unwind. On Monday we drove down the coast to Santa Cruz to treat ourselves to massage and hot tubs at a clothing-optional “retreat house” spa.

It was such a vulnerable experience for me, to just bare it all, but it was freeing. We spent the evening soaking in tubs, meditating in the sauna, sipping tea, and getting massage. It was exactly what I needed to release the pressure that had built up over the last five months.

While there, my friend and I talked about how much this semester broke us down yet also made us stronger. When I look back, I can see a difference in my ability to cope with stress and self-doubt. I know what I am made of now. I can handle anything if I stay strong through the hard times, and have faith that things will work out.

All the encouragement I received from family and friends this year made all the difference. I am so grateful to feel loved and supported by the people in my life. Their presence in my life is a gift. They have pushed me to pursue my dreams and to never give up on myself.

For the next month, I’m going to enjoy my winter break, and spend this time taking care of myself and having fun. I finally used my gift certificate for 30 days of unlimited classes at a yoga studio near my house. I promised myself I’d try to go every day to take full advantage of the gift. The past week I have kept that promise, and feel energized and ready to take on the new year, whatever it has in store for me.

Setting Limits

Earlier this week I sat with my good friend as she cried over a recent breakup. She continues to blame herself for the relationship failing and allows her ex to label her the “bad guy,” while he accepts none of the responsibility.

I asked her when she is going to cut him off, but she said that she doesn’t want to be unkind and give him more ammunition to use against her. I feel frustrated with her willingness to let him walk all over her. But I recognize how judgmental that is. Too often I have allowed a boyfriend to lie to me, abuse me, and then blamed myself for the relationship failing. And my friends are always pointing out how overly forgiving I am. I will always lend a helping hand to even those people who have hurt me; maybe to some extent, so I can be the bigger person.

Yoga, with the internal and external awareness it demands, has empowered me with self-loving energy and helped me develop strength and confidence in my ability to pick up the pieces and move on from literally anything. Awareness I gain from practice has made me sensitive to other’s feelings and I attempt to act and speak with gentleness to even those who push my buttons. But it’s sometimes difficult to know when being compassionate crosses over into being a doormat.

One destructive habit I’ve developed in relationships, and something I’ve seen in other’s, is the over-willingness to change who I am; giving up parts of my personality, beliefs, and responsibilities so someone will love and accept me. Taking this time to be single and recognizing how my life has blossomed in school, work and friendships, has taught me that I need to be with a partner who inspires me to grow and who celebrates my ambitions, and not condemn me for them. Shouldn’t the point of a partner be to rejoice in each other’s successes and celebrate commonalities as well as differences?

Taking a time out from romance has made me more aware of the ways people manipulate others because of their own selfishness. Manipulation is abuse, even if it leaves no visible scars. When I’ve been manipulated, I’ve felt defeated and resented someone’s control over me. And those relationships often ended by my doing exactly what the other person was trying to keep me from doing.

When I date again, I know I need to set limits on how much I’m willing to change and give up for another person. I want to be open to change that could benefit me and enhance the relationship, but beyond that, I’m holding the line. This is who I am, and no amount of manipulation is going to change that.

Finding Inner Focus

Meditation has always been difficult for me. I can never stay in the moment. Over the last few months, I’ve made a commitment to myself to practice meditating every night. It hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t felt any results, since I still can’t quiet my mind when I try to sit in stillness. But I had a sort of breakthrough last week.

While at my family cabin in Lake Tahoe for the Thanksgiving weekend, I had a pile of essays to write, reading to finish, and studying to do. The house was loud, with more than 20 family members talking, eating, laughing and walking around; it was hardly a perfect place to concentrate. Strangely though, despite the noise and craziness, I was able to finish reading Gandhi’s autobiography and understand it enough to interpret it into an essay. I didn’t realize until later, but I was practicing meditation through studying.

I have never been able to focus so intently on my schoolwork with noise and chaos buzzing around me. Meditation is training me to intently apply myself to whatever task is in front of me. My instructor reassured me that sitting meditation and poses like Savasana can, for some people, be more challenging than the physically strenuous poses like Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) and Bakasana (Crane Pose). I always felt comfortable with the vinyasa flows, because it’s easy to distract myself from my daily stress when I’m flowing from pose to pose. The quieter poses, which require inward attention, make me uneasy and I squirm and resist letting go. But with patience, I am making progress in my practice.

My yoga class this past Monday night started and ended with five minutes of meditation. I sat still without scratching, fidgeting, or opening my eyes. I was completely centered inside myself. When the instructor used her Tibetan singing bowl to signal us to return our attention to the room, I felt warmth and light flowing through my body, and left class energized. When I got home, I easily finished another essay and studied for an hour.

Yoga and meditation are helping me to get through the hardest semester of my college career. I realize how much mediation is improving my ability to be present in the moment and study, and to absorb what I’m learning. Later this month, when my finals are over, I plan to go to the San Francisco Zen Center to learn more about meditation. While the physical side of yoga is important, I want to explore the internal process as well. Nothing is a quick fix for the distractions in life, but maybe with inner focus I can at least learn to accept the difficulties with confidence in my ability to find peace, even in chaos.

Respecting My Vegan Choices

ew_234_02_fnl_art.jpgI’m a vegan, and the holiday months have, in the past, been a time of guilt and anxiety for me. I became a vegan 14 years ago, and nearly every year since, I have been judged and often ostracized by family and friends for not eating meat and dairy-laden desserts. It took nearly 10 years for my family to come around and finally accept that this is who I am, and that I can’t be guilted into going against my beliefs. 

Often at holiday dinners I would eat an Amy’s frozen vegan TV dinner while my family members feasted on turkey, gravy, stuffing, and pies. I wouldn’t feel thankful and often felt ashamed of who I am and uncomfortable sitting at a table surrounded by dead animals and dairy. 

Over the past four years, though, whoever is hosting the holiday meal will usually prepare something vegan for me so I won’t feel left out. I really appreciate these efforts to include me; they make me feel loved and accepted.

But this year, in addition to my family meal, I’m throwing a holiday party myself with a vegan menu. Despite mainstream doubts, vegan holiday cooking doesn’t have to be expensive, time consuming or bland. 

I’m not a big fan of vegan cooking that tries to imitate meat dishes. Tofurky, to me, tastes spongy, bland, oily, and not enjoyable. My vegan friends and I love cooking that emphasizes seasonal, organic vegetables. Preparing dishes that are savory, colorful, textured, and easy is key. Sautéed garlic Brussels sprouts, mashed Yukon and sweet potatoes, and wild mushroom casserole are holiday favorites of ours.

Seasonal veggie dishes are often healthier than traditional holiday plates, because vegetables don’t leave me feeling tired, sick, and guilty. Every holiday season I hear people talk about “breaking” their diet or ruining their health due to these holiday feasts. But I never feel guilty after a vegan meal, in fact, I feel like I’m taking care of myself.

I’m sure many people have special diet restrictions and feel anxious and guilty over the holidays when family and friends expect traditional behavior of eating meat and sweets, and being overindulgent. I think everyone could try to be more understanding of others, since this is the time of year for compassion. We should all make time to take care of ourselves during this stressful season, without worrying over how others will judge us.

Finding Lessons in Loss

sadladyonrock.jpgThis past year I’ve lost friendships as result of a death, a disagreement, or just simply due to falling out of touch. I had a gathering of friends at my apartment last week, and as I looked around the room, I realized every person there had touched my life in some significant way. Some of them I hadn’t seen in a long time because our busy schedules.

Having this room full of friends got me thinking about the purpose of the people who come and go in my life, and how to deal with the loss of a friendship, or of any relationship.

The most significant loss in my life was my father’s sudden death over three years ago. I’m still processing it, but he left me with the wisdom to appreciate the loved ones in my life. And it’s because of him that I found yoga; he practiced every day. I remember him doing these hilarious poses in our living room as I ate my cereal before school, poses that I now know as Downward-Facing Dog and Warrior ll.

Six months after my father’s death, I was still struggling with the grief. One night I grabbed his yoga mat and went to a class. Afterward, I felt somewhat at peace for the first time since he had passed. Since then, yoga has become a safe place for me to tune out my worries and conflicts and just focus on the present moment and being grateful for my life.

Now, like my father, I practice yoga every morning. My typical intention is to focus on someone in my life and send them love and warm thoughts. Sometimes, if I’m having a disagreement with a friend, I will make my intention to end negative thoughts and send them positive ones. This doesn’t stop the conflict, but it makes me feel calmer and less agitated.

But relationships do sometimes end. And when they do, I struggle with letting go. I’m working on accepting these losses as a gain in knowledge; to realize that everyone who comes into my life, no matter how long, teaches me something.
In that thinking, even my last bad romantic breakup had its positives, by teaching me what to watch out for when I do date again, and how to be better in relationships.
I’m trying to focus on the lesson, the experience shared, rather than the endings. Whether it’s a loss as devastating as losing my dad, or as uncomfortable as realizing that a friendship has run its course, I’m grateful for all the relationships in my life, for helping to shape me to be who I am.

Doing the Best I Can

web_225_growing_217_silence_art.jpgWith a month left to turn in my application to graduate school for a creative writing program, I’m having a lot of doubts about my abilities as a writer. I have to complete 20 pages of sample writing, and nothing I produce seems to be good enough.

I’ve always been extremely self-critical and a perfectionist. I’m also controlling; since childhood I have always tried to control my circumstances, and felt like a failure when I couldn’t. These aren’t qualities that I take pride in.

 I realize that in life, things happen, and I can’t control anything except for the way I react. But even the idea of life’s unpredictability sometimes overwhelms me to the point that I feel completely helpless.

Like right now, with this grad school application. I went into the process with an open mind and heart, telling myself that if I’m meant to be in this program, it will happen. If not, I’m meant to do something else. Unfortunately, my intention to feel this way is easier in theory. Instead, I’m finding that my need for perfection and control are getting the better of me, making me doubt whether I am a good enough writer for the program and to make this a career. 

A friend and I were discussing our shared talent for self-depreciation and inability to just let go and let fate take over. She asked me if I have ever felt that I loved myself. Honestly, I had to say no. I have never felt that way. While I’m getting there slowly through yoga and self-discovery, I’m not there yet. 

But her question made me think. If I loved myself, maybe I’d feel more confident in my writing. Maybe I’d feel proud that I put my all into things that I care about, no matter what the outcome. Maybe I’d trust that I’m on my own path and doing exactly what I need to move to the next step in my life. 

This week when I sat down at my computer to work on my application, I decided to tune out my inner voice and to just let go of my desire to control what happens once this application leaves my hands. All I can do is write from my heart, and trust my voice and my words. As soon as I did that, the words started flowing out of me.

I believe in striving for the best of my abilities, but I can’t do any more than try my best. That has to be enough.

No one is perfect, and honestly, how boring would we all be if we were?

Chosing to be Single, for Now

30_OM3.jpgIt’s been almost a year since I’ve dated. Since high school, more than 10 years ago, I have always been in a relationship. After my last breakup, I decided I needed some time off from dating to dedicate myself to family, school, work, and yoga of course! I wanted to finish college with a high GPA and work really hard to save up enough money to travel this summer as a graduation gift to myself. 

So far I’ve accomplished a lot. My grades are high, I’ve seen plenty of my family, and I am interning at Yoga Journal, which I have been dreaming of doing for years. 

I’ve also been able to dedicate more time to my yoga practice, which has helped with everything else.

I remember how distracted and overwhelmed I was in my last relationship, trying to make “us” work and worrying more about him and his needs than about taking care of myself. I sometimes put him before school and work and was disappointed constantly in myself for not reaching my goals. 

I think this happens to us all. One of my friends is trying to juggle her relationship with her crazy schedule. She is taking a full course load, applying to grad school, volunteering, and working nights. This puts a huge strain on her relationship. I listen to her tell me what it’s like for her and I get flashbacks of how it was for me last year. I’m thankful to be free.

While I do get lonely and miss affection, I am learning to rely on myself in ways I never had to before. In the last year, my friendships have flourished and I feel more balanced in every area of my life. I no longer feel that need to be with someone; sometimes I think I’ll avoid dating for another year. 

During this time, I’ve also gotten to know myself better and am now sure of the kind of person I want to be with when I finally do decide to date again.

So for now, I’m OK with where I’m at and what I am: self-sufficient, becoming more aware every day, and fully focused and present to the task of graduating and getting into grad school. I think time alone has done me some good. 

When Self-Care is Yoga

girl_with_teacup.jpgThis has been the most stressful week of the fall semester. I came down with the flu right at the beginning of midterms. So, in addition to missing work, I’ve missed school, and have been worrying constantly about exams. I also found out that the damage to my truck from last week’s accident exceeds its value, so I’ve been advised to just scrap it.

My daily yoga practice is how I usually relieve tension, but this week, there’s been no yoga. Without that physical release, plus my inability to practice pranayama due to a stuffed nose, the worry and tension has just built and built with no place to go. As a result, I’ve been feeling out of control and unable to focus on much else, even in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping.

A friend gave me a good reminder that obsessing and worrying rarely lead to any positive result, and that things always work out in the end, no matter how chaotic it feels in the moment.

My friend is right. And I often use the yoga mat as a way to take this needed, step back to look at situations with a calm, more positive perspective. I reminded myself then that I don’t have to be physically practicing yoga to gain this distance; I can simply take care of myself.

Admittedly, this isn’t easy for me. While yoga is something I’m willing to make time for, asking myself, “What do I really need right now?” with the intention to honor whatever comes up, feels somehow selfish or lazy.

Yesterday, I realized I need to cut myself some slack. If I don’t take care of myself, through yoga or whatever means I have available, I’ll only continue to feel exhausted and overwhelmed and my schoolwork and health suffers.

So when I went home for the day, I made myself a meal of organic veggies and tea, and then took a nap. I woke up well rested, refreshed, and better able to look at things rationally. The panic was gone.

Later that night, my roommate, who is also a student, and I talked about our crazy schedules and how easily we put aside tuning into our inner needs. We laughed over our similar dilemmas. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the struggle.

Staying Present One Breath at a Time

wb_233_opnr_art.jpgThe other day I was in a fender bender, ironically, while taking my truck to the shop for a tune up. Adrenaline shot through my body, and before I even thought about my safety, my mind went straight to worrying about how much money and time the damage to my truck is going to cost, as well as the stress this whole ordeal will add to my busy life.

We both pulled our cars to the side of the street, and the other driver apologetically handed me her insurance information explaining that she had been rushing because she was late. Within half an hour, she drove off, and I was now fretting that I would be late for my internship at Yoga Journal and how this would impact the rest of my day. Just then I realized that this kind of worrying and rushing was exactly what the other driver had been doing when she hit me.

So I sat in my car and decided to practice pranayama. I breathed and meditated on the fact that I was in one piece and thankful to be safe. 

Fifteen minutes later I felt grounded enough to move on with my day. Whenever my mind wandered to obsessing over the damage to my car, I reminded myself to breathe and be grateful I was OK. 

This is a restless time in my life; I am hitting an important crossroads. In May I’ll be graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism, and I need to make a decision whether to pursue grad school or look for a full time career. The decision process is overwhelming and sometimes all I want to do to tune out to a bunch of bad TV and not think about it. 

I know not being fully present will rob me of the chance to enjoy the excitement, and, yes, insecurity, of this time in my life. Being in the moment, even the crazy ones, keeps me motivated to work hard and get myself on the right path. 

But, like most people, staying present isn’t easy for me. I’m always thinking about the future or the past or am otherwise unable to just be in the here and now.

My current schedule doesn’t help. Aside from school and my internship, I work three part time jobs. I’m constantly thinking about my next responsibility and how to get it all done. When I have a free moment, like in yoga class, my mind still wanders and I have trouble committing to just my mat. 

That’s why I have decided to dedicate my yoga practice to finding a way to be present and aware in each moment. 

I’m still waiting for my car to be repaired. And I will need to take time out of my schedule to deal with it. But I’m striving to accept this delay and let the worry go until the time comes when I need to handle it. As for post-graduation, I still have no idea what I’ll do. But as stressful as this time in my life is, and uncertain, I know that I want to be present to experience it, to enjoy the exhilaration of the unknown.