Philosophy

Peace

I never asked to be here.

I never asked for the lockdown, right as I was getting my act together. I never asked to have my tools taken away and to be left with a virtual facsimile. I never asked to lose the ground that I lost during that time.

I never asked to live in a time when my friends were forced to live without an income. I never asked to stand by helplessly, doing what little I could to prevent them from losing their dreams, their livelihood.

I never asked to raise a child in quarantine. I never asked to be tasked with creating a cocoon of safety within our apartment, while the future of our country, possibly the future of the world, seemed so uncertain.

I never asked to watch from afar as my friend’s husband spent a year on a ventilator before passing away. I never asked to listen to my friends as they helplessly watched their loved ones slip away.

I never asked to worry while the Covid virus attacked my brain. I never asked to be plagued with what-if’s after I exposed my parents during the winter freeze. I never asked to wonder why I recovered on a day when 1550 people lost their lives.

I could keep going on going. The Delta variant has caused me so much anger, so much sadness, and so much frustration. After seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we are forced back into the darkness.

For a long time, frustration was all I felt. Frustration with the people who refused to take it seriously. Frustrated with our leadership and the constant threat of lockdown. Frustrated with the lack of objective facts, so that I could make my own decisions.

One day I was angry that students were sent home from school to quarantine, because I know how much the pandemic has hurt their education. Then the next day I spoke with a young mother who was facing the possibility of losing her husband, and I was assuring her that we would look after their young child, emotionally. It was one of the many times I have cried at work this year.

And that conversation is also what led me to let go.

I can’t control what happens in Washington. I can’t control what happens in Austin.

I can’t control the policy decisions that are made about the pandemic. I don’t need to choose a side or form an opinion. That is not where my energy belongs.

In realizing this, my body and mind are finally able to relax.

There are many things I can do. I have strong resistance to the virus, after having it and being vaccinated. I am on the front lines, and that is where I belong.

School has always been an oasis of safety for our students and their families. When I first started teaching, at age 24, I was called into an emergency staff meeting to discuss a shooting that had taken place in the community, involving one of our students. We provided support, safety, and familiarity, which helped that student’s brother through an impossibly difficult time.

Since then, I have been in staff meetings where we discussed talking to students about Sandy Hook, hurricane Harvey, exploding factories, and the pandemic. I have sat in a hallway, singing “Old MacDonald,” while a tornado passed over our school.

I have sat through lockdown drills, assuring students that we will keep them safe.

And now our country is polarized, as never before. People are frustrated by their lack of control over the situation. People are fearing for their health against a novel virus. People are overwhelmed by the lack of factual information and feeling unsafe in the face of weak leadership.

I can provide their children with consistency and routine. I can do whatever I can to keep their children safe. I can show grace when people lose their temper, because I know it isn’t about me.

And I can listen. I can care. I can withhold judgement, regardless of their situation, because this is not something for me to judge.

We are here. I can accept that. No matter what led us to be here, we are here.

And the only way we are going to get through it, is by helping each other.

Health, Philosophy

My Thoughts on Body Positivity

Like most women, I have spent a large portion of my life hating how I look. When I was a teenager and my weight got into the triple digits, I decided I must be huge and that everything would fall into place if I just lost weight.

I obsessed over dieting for a few years, certain that getting skinnier would solve all of my life’s problems. Of course I was tiny already, but I thought my very muscular thighs were too fat. And of course my roundy face was too roundy.

Me in seventh grade!

In high school I started eating like any other teenager, which got me up to a healthy weight. And then it kept climbing. I tried a few diets here and there, usually ending up back at a healthy weight whenever I used the South Beach diet.

The only time I was really happy with my body during that time was when I was pregnant. I felt gorgeous with my big baby belly!

Then it was back to the same, gaining then doing South Beach and losing, but never losing enough to really be happy with how I looked. As things grew worse in my career, the dieting stopped and the medicating with food started. I hated how I looked, and that only seemed to make me want more ice cream.

So I get it. When people say they are done with diet culture and hating on themselves, I absolutely get it. When I was miserable with my job and my life in general, the last thing I wanted to do was give up the only comfort I had. And standing in front of the mirror, looking at how awful I looked, only increased that misery.

If I had not started to see my beauty when I was at my heaviest, I think the cycle would have continued indefinitely.

But in seeing my beauty and learning to love that person, inside and out, I began to realize that I was medicating with food because I was miserable. Of course I took steps to make my life less miserable first, and that was the hardest part. But in loving myself, I saw that I was not feeling my best when I was overeating in order to escape. I was not feeling my best when I was caught in an addiction.

That is what led me to my therapist and dietician. If I were eating only when I was hungry and making food choices that led me to feel my best, it would not have mattered that I was the size I was. But the truth was, I no longer experienced the feeling of being hungry. I was so out of touch with my own body that I no longer recognized hunger.

Once I learned to recognize and honor my hunger and fullness, I realized that I wanted to make food choices that made me feel better. Pizza is so comforting, but when I eat it to fullness, I feel yucky and tired. I enjoy treats still, but I have learned that I feel better when I enjoy them in moderation.

And finally, my weight was a problem. I love running, doing yoga, and otherwise being active, and my weight was causing my knees to hurt to the point where I couldn’t climb stairs normally. Heart problems and diabetes run in my family, and taking care of my health was a part of loving myself.

I worked on being more informed about my food choices. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have treats, but it does mean that I practice moderation with some foods.

So while there are some aspects of “body positivity” that I definitely agree with, there are some areas where my opinion differs from some of the prevailing ideology.

Here are the thoughts I have on body positivity:

1. I had to see myself as beautiful before I could make changes.

I was never able to hate myself into thinness. I had to accept and love the person in the mirror, as she was. Even now, I have been happy with my appearance at every weight. I am trying to lose my pandemic pounds, because I gained them from binge eating. If I just naturally ended up at this weight through healthy eating, that would be fine.

2. For me, having some structure helps me be mindful.

I loved the book Intuitive Eating. In fact, I highly recommend it to anyone. However, I need a little more structure and information at this point. I monitor my weight, because it helps me understand my body better. I know that I tend to gain more water weight at different points during the month, for example. I also know that if the overall trend is toward weight gain, then I need to look at my patterns. When I am overeating, it is not long until my overall mental health takes a nosedive.

Tracking what I eat is also helpful for me, because it helps me see my patterns. I don’t obsess over calories, but when I go out of my Smartpoints range, it usually means that I am emotionally eating. Tracking also helps me to eat more of the foods that make me feel better: fruits, vegetables and lean protein.

3. I eat when I am hungry.

Always. I carry snacks with me and eat them when I am hungry. Yes, they are zero or low Smartpoint snacks, but that also helps me to gauge when I am actually hungry, as opposed to emotional eating.

4. Exercise is not punishment.

I went to a bootcamp class once. We worked really hard for the entire hour, and I could not do half of the exercises. I didn’t go back.

Instead, I focus on having an active lifestyle with activities I enjoy. I like running, because I have kind of a competitive streak. Yoga is my spiritual practice, and I never need to motivate myself to go to class. In fact, I need a good reason not to go, if I miss. I love walking, especially in the woods. And bike riding instead of driving is a special treat!

I don’t exercise to burn the fat. I am active because it feels good, and it improves my mood significantly.

5. I eat donuts.

There is a donut shop next to my yoga studio. They have a cream filled chocolate donut. They are delicious. I eat one every Saturday.

6. Everyone’s journey is different.

I don’t sit around, judging everyone who weighs more or less that I do! In fact, I barely notice and really don’t care. We are all at different places, and we are all doing our best. I just think the important thing to remember is that we need to do what works for us, rather than trying to follow a philosophy 100%.

Health, Philosophy

Navigating the New, New Normal

There are some people who never think about social norms. They just instinctively know what to do in various situations, and they are always in tune with the “unwritten rules” of the situation, without even being aware that there are unwritten rules. For them, it’s just what you do.

I am not one of those people.

I have to study the human race as if I am an anthropologist. I have often been assigned to teach social skills classes throughout my teaching career and I love it because it is an opportunity for my students and me to compare notes and learn together! And moving from rural, Northern Michigan to the Houston/Galveston area has provided my brain with plenty of social skills learning opportunities.

For example:

In Michigan, if you are on time, you are late. Down here, it completely depends on the situation. You get to yoga at least 15 minutes early. You arrive at work on time, on the dot. Leisure activities have a lot more flexibility.

In Michigan, you get straight to the point in your interactions. Down here, if you don’t chat a little bit (but not too much), you are rude.

In both places, if you are hosting, your guests will appreciate it if you ask about their specific dietary needs. In Michigan your guests will tell you (and they will have specific needs). Down here, they will tell you that they have no special eating needs (even though they do!).

In Michigan, you do not talk about race–to do so would be rude. Down here, using race as a descriptive characteristic or in other flattering (or at least non-offensive) ways is perfectly acceptable.

In Michigan, students make a sign language “t” for “toilet” when they need to use the facilities, which are called the “bathroom.” Down here, students sign “r” for “restroom” and refer to the facilities by the same name.

In both places, if you meet someone with differing political views, you both talk about how you deviate from your preferred party and try to find common ground.

In both states, the first person to the door, opens it. And it is always a race to be that person!

We have successfully crashed parties in both locations. Just bring something to share!

Rona Norms

So, enter the Rona.

Right away, we were faced with some new, emerging unwritten rules. Some people were extremely cautious from the beginning, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with this weird virus that humankind had never before experienced. Some people were comfortable retaining the risk and just wanted to live their lives as normally as possible. The rest of us fell somewhere in the middle.

Texas reopened very quickly, with in-person classes available at every school, so I re-entered pandemic society more quickly than people in other areas. But of course during all of this, people still spanned the spectrum with their comfort levels. I have friends who are just starting to leave their homes now, friends who we hugging and going maskless a year ago, and the rest of us, in the middle.

Here were some of the unwritten rules that evolved during the Rona:

Follow the lead of the most cautious person in the engagement. My friends who were going to indoor restaurants would eat outdoors with me. And I would meet for Facetime chats or quick parking lot gift exchanges with friends who preferred that.

Ask before hugging, and don’t take it personally if the answer is, “Sorry, no.”

Wear your mask by default, but it is okay to take it off (if you want) if everyone else isn’t wearing theirs.

Put on your mask if someone comes into the room wearing theirs.

Wear your mask while in indoor public places.

Socially distance, whether your mask is on or not.

Post-Rona Rules?

The rules all made sense, and then we got Ronavax…

Schools are very cut-and-dry about the rules for masks. On our campus, they were required for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, then optional starting June 4. Most businesses have also made masks optional. If there is a sign on the door stating otherwise, we always make sure to wear ours when we first walk through the door, then we take them off if other people are not wearing theirs.

The confusing part is when there is no sign. I was recently reprimanded for not wearing a mask into a store with not visible sign. This was more embarrassing for me than it should have been, because I felt like I should have known the rules when I clearly did not.

Well, at any rate, this will be a new, interesting chapter in the stories we tell our grandchildren one day!

Philosophy

Ascending the Mountain

I have a friend who taught a yoga nidra class that I attended. One of my favorite scripts that she read was a visualization of climbing a mountain. It began at the base of the mountain and described our ascent as we traveled with a guide.

In the beginning, the guide that I visualized was a generic-looking outdoorsman with a dark beard and a camera. As I approached the summit in my mind, however, I realized that my guide had become an older, stronger version of myself.

When I told my friend about this after class, she said, “Bethany, don’t you realize that you are supposed to be the guide by the end of the meditation?”

Last summer, during the shutdown, I knew that I was going through a difficult but transformational time in my journey. As I came through it and learned and grew, I was able to see how the journey up the mountain was a perfect metaphor for my own path. And I saw that while many people walked with me on the journey, there were definitely four people who filled the role of “guide.”

This is my story of their influence on my climb.

2012: The Path at the Base of the Mountain

Guide: Kyle

Let’s begin this story in the fall of 2012. I had just returned from a 93-day sailing trip on the Great Lakes, and I felt a yearning for something more than life in my neighborhood in Harrison, Michigan could offer. I felt more and more out of synch with my teaching job that I had once loved. Returning to “reality” made me restless, and I coped with it by writing on my old blog, Journey to Ithaca.

At that time I was just beginning to embrace the minimalist lifestyle, and I quit Facebook for the first time. I reached out to a number of other bloggers through email, including one I will refer to as “Kyle,” who wrote a blog about mindfulness and meditation. Kyle got my attention when he commented on one of my blog posts, recommending the book Linchpin by Seth Godin and saying that I should read it, because it really applies to me.

I always loved it when friends recommended books, and I would always email them with my thoughts (and general commentary) when I had finished the book. This book, however, completely blew my mind. The information in the book, coupled with the idea that Kyle had said that I was a “linchpin” and capable of accomplishing great things, was mentally overwhelming. I began to realize that every assumption I had held about myself was likely false. I saw that I had been holding a negative identity of myself, and that my beliefs about myself were holding me back.

Kyle encouraged me in this redefining process and recommended more books for me to read about brain research, Zen, and positive thinking. At times during this process, I felt like I was losing my mind, and my emailing habits became quite excessive. Kyle had his own challenges, and while our interactions were purely platonic, I don’t know that they were necessarily “healthy.” However, he did lead me to the mountain that I would climb. He introduced me to ideas that would become the mainstay of my journey.

As I was reading and studying, my situation at my job only became worse. I was unhappy with it, and I wanted to see more and do more. The work that I had done allowed me to understand that I was in control of my situation, and that led me to make the choice to travel with my family across the country and start a new life. I saw that we could create something new, although I was terrified of repeating the same play on a new stage.

Eventually, I had made it as far as Kyle could lead me, and our paths split into different directions. We lost contact, which seemed to be for the best. Still, I am grateful for what I learned and the beginning of my journey.

2013-2016: The Beginning of the Ascent

Guide: Ewa

I had started working with an online life coach before I moved to Texas, but I really did not commit to the process until a few months after I had moved. I had been introduced to the idea of redefining limiting beliefs by Kyle, but with Ewa, I went through boot camp!

Through our emails, Ewa taught me techniques for calming my very overactive fight-or-flight response, then guided me through a questioning process to uncover and replace all the assumptions I had been holding. I realized that I had a constant verbally abusive commentary running through my head, and I was able to stop it rather early in our work together.

My new job was not working out as wonderfully as I thought it would, and for awhile I had multiple email exchanges with Ewa over the course of a day. With her guiding me through the redefining process, I was able to change my perception of myself, which in turn, helped to improve my situation. After two years, I was moved into a much better-suited position at work.

Near the end of my time working with Ewa, I asked her to train me in her method, and I began working with coaching clients. I loved being able to help others in the way that I had been helped, and I was able to see that everyone is vulnerable and everyone faces fear. While I eventually stopped doing coaching (because I quickly burned out on the marketing aspect of running a side hustle), working with clients was an important step in my journey.

It was through my work with redefining, that I first experienced what I referred to as “the place of love”–the state of mind that lies beyond fear, assumption, and identity. It was fleeting, but it was very real.

It was while I was working with Ewa that I discovered yoga. I saw my overeating as a response to being in fight-or-flight and an effort to ground myself, so I joined a gym to try and adopt some healthier habits. This gym had a yoga class, and one of my friends in Michigan always talked about how much she loved yoga. (I wrote more about my yoga journey here).

I wrote to Ewa after my first few classes, discouraged because my body was so inflexible and there were 20-year-olds in class doing handstands. Ewa’s response was: “But what yoga really teaches you is that you can’t compare, that the only journey is your own. That each time you stand at the top of your mat, you bring your focus onto the tip of your nose and your breathing, cultivating your sense of awareness in a practice that is different every day, even if you do the same postures over and over.”

By then, I was living on a boat with very comfortable living space, working in a job that was okay, and looking for a new place to practice yoga. Ewa was looking to make a career change, when I emailed her and said I had found a new yoga studio that I loved, and I joked that I had a “girl crush” on the instructor, who would become guide #3.

Ewa and I have kept in touch through our new adventures, with a few emails throughout the year.

2016-2020: The Steep Approach to the Summit

Guide: Cass

My yoga teacher, Cass, says that 3 is the number of completion, so it is very fitting that she was the third guide on my journey.

I have written before about my yoga practice and the lessons I have learned from Cass, but I think it is important to note that I could not have learned and grown as much as I did, if I had not done the groundwork prior to the day I found Moonlight Yoga. The steepest climb on the mountain happened during my time working with Cass, but I had to climb up to that point before I could begin to traverse the rockiest part of the path.

It was during this leg of my journey that I began to see the full extent of the damage done by my lack of self-value. My work situation had become abusive, I spent my time with friends who did not lead me to become my best self, I drank way too much, and my binge eating was completely out of control.

Yes, I knew how to redefine, but I often would not do it on my own, because I was too angry at myself. I considered everyone to be a potential threat, and I did not know how to even begin to self-advocate without being passive-aggressive.

I enlisted the help of a therapist and later, a dietician as well. Therapy helped me to process my emotions as I faced the challenges and made the necessary life changes during this time.

But yoga was my mainstay and my path back to myself. And Cass was the one who helped me access it.

It was Cass who helped me to find my voice and showed me that it is okay to speak up and address issues directly. It was Cass who encouraged me during 6 am classes while I was going through my last year at my old job. It was Cass who told me with absolute confidence that her role was to show me my value and told me that I was beautiful when I was at my heaviest. It was Cass who was my biggest cheerleader when I decided to go back to teaching full time.

She was the first person I told when I was offered my dream job.

Cass taught me that I can create a new reality, and, most importantly, that I am deserving my dreams. Yoga has led me to create a life better than I ever imagined was possible. It is because of yoga that I look in the mirror and see a beautiful person looking back.

Yoga taught me patience. My body has consistently become more flexible, but it has been very slow, steady progress. I have learned that if this is okay with me, then this is okay. And I have learned to see and appreciate the slow, steady progress that I have made throughout my life, with my mind and with my habits.

Cass never told me what to do, but she always supports me in reaching the goals that I have set for myself. From day 1, her words and actions have been leading me closer to my fourth guide, the one who will accompany me to the top of the mountain.

2020-Present: Approaching the Top and Watching the Sunrise

Guide: Bethany

Now the drama is (mostly) gone, and I am finding that I can take risks as I reach toward my dreams. My dreams themselves have grown, and I understand that failure only happens if I give up. I realize that if something is okay with me, then it is okay. I no longer feel the need to seek approval or validation (although I do like to brag about my accomplishments!).

This does not mean that I am perfect. I still have crabby days and days of self-doubt. And I understand that being okay with those is also a part of the process.

The best part is that as I have made peace with myself, I have become more understanding of those around me. I have had the confidence to step into more roles where I can give back, and I believe in myself enough to take chances and make a difference.

My yoga practice is still very much a part of all of this, and Cass is still a very significant mentor in my life. However, there has definitely been a shift, and I am definitely the guide on this leg of the journey.

The yoga nidra that my friend led years ago, ends with you and the guide reaching the top of the mountain and watching the sun rise over the city and valley below. I am not to the peak yet, but when I get there, I will definitely share pictures of the beautiful sunrise.

Philosophy

Why I Stopped Preparing for the Worst

When I was in sixth grade, I ran for student council vice president. After a crazy month of covering the hallways in campaign signs, it was time to hear the results of the vote count. As we sat in the principal’s office waiting to hear the results, a teacher cautioned us, “Prepare to lose.”

At the time this seemed like sensible advice. Statistically speaking, most of us were going to lose. Better to be expecting disappointment and possibly be pleasantly surprised right? So although I was disappointed that I had not won, I felt like I had done the best thing I could to mentally prepare myself for this.

I lived much of my adult life with this mindset. I interviewed for a job where they told me that there would likely be a job offer, but I was prepared for the possibility of it falling through. I tempered the emotional high that I would have felt if it were a sure thing, and I was happy that I had a backup plan when things didn’t go as expected.

At this new job, things went wonderfully, but I was always looking ahead for things that might go wrong, not allowing myself to get too comfortable. So when those things actually happened, I was not as disappointed as I could have been.

My career continued in this fashion, preparing for the worst, then not being overly surprised when it happened. I learned to keep my expectations “realistic.” But at the same time, I found that my focus on the worst case scenario kept my confidence low. I didn’t take many risks, because I was focused on the possibility of losing my income.

The turning point happened during the pandemic. I was constantly stockpiling food, in case there were a survival situation where we were unable to get more. I soaked up doomsday stories, preparing for every possible bad outcome. When I went back to work, I was so, so careful, wearing and N95 all day and changing and showering as soon as I got home. I was fixated on the worst case scenario–that I would get very sick from the virus and spread it to others.

Long before I actually caught the virus, I encountered an opportunity at work. I had been working as a teaching assistant, and the teacher in charge of our team unexpectedly resigned. I applied for the position, then began my usual process of preparing for it not to happen. Maybe someone has a friend who is going to get the position. Maybe nobody sees me or would even consider me. Maybe my past trauma from my previous job would be a reason not to hire me. All of these scenarios were far fetched, but as I fixated on them, I began to feel as if they had happened. And this, of course, made me very angry, because it would be horrible if any of those scenarios were true.

Then I stopped. I was so tired of worrying and fixating on negativity. I was so tired of giving all of my energy to horrible things that had not happened. I was tired to never celebrating until something was perfectly safe and secure.

And so I celebrated. Of course I would get the job. I was a special education teacher with 15 years experience. It is very rare for someone to last that long in this field. I am likable and excellent at leading a team. And this opportunity was too perfect. It was my dream job, set right in my lap. It was a God thing, a Universe thing. Whatever you want to call it, it was meant to be.

I let myself fully experience the feelings of joy over returning to teaching and landing the perfect job. I told my friends, and I knew that the traumatic experience I had been through at my old job, did not define me. I foolishly refused to consider any other outcome.

One morning I felt the urge to check my email before I left for work, and I saw that an interview was scheduled for that day. I knew that getting the job was a sure thing, and this was just a chance for me to demonstrate my knowledge and experience, and for the team to see what I already saw–that I was the perfect fit.

The interview went flawlessly, and I was authentically me. The next Monday, I woke up feeling grateful and sent a text to one of my friends, reflecting on how far I had come over the past 5 years. Shortly after I arrived at work, I was offered the new position, and I excitedly accepted.

Of course, the inevitable question is, what if I had not been offered the position? Wouldn’t it have been better to have been prepared for that?

My answer is that if I had “prepared” for the worst, I would have mentally gone through the scenarios where the worst could have happened, and most of those involve doubting my worthiness or expecting unfairness. I did consider the unlikely chance that someone more qualified that I would get the position, but I knew that was unlikely so I did not dwell on it. I would learn a lot from such a person, so it was still a win-win.

Fixating on the worst and not allowing the celebration from the beginning, led me to fixate on my unworthiness and to expect unfairness. Celebrating early on helped me to see my value and to see the universe as a whole in a rosier light.

Given the choice, I will always try to see the rosy light from now on.

Philosophy

What If “Up”?

A year ago, when the world came to a standstill, I reconnected with an old friend, through texts and Facetime. One day, when we were both feeling very anxious, she suggested that we both do a journaling exercise she had recently read about. We were to divide our paper down the middle, and in the first column, write every “what if” that we were worrying about at that time. Then, in the other column, we needed to write a “what if up.” That is, we were to reframe the “what if” as a positive.

My pictures are from our adventures over the past two weeks! This is at the zoo, over spring break.

Looking back at my journal, here is what I wrote:

What if….

What I have to go back to work full time?

What if we catch the virus?

What if we have no paycheck from catching the virus?

What if we die because we have no insurance?

What if my parents catch the virus?

What if I have to go back to work without having yoga?

What if the yoga studio goes out of business?

What if “up”…

What if people realize the nonsense of political party loyalty?

What if people unite together to stop the virus from spreading?

What if I learn to stay calm and at peace, no matter what is going on out there?

What if this is a positive, transformational time for me?

What if our yoga community grows stronger as we all have the opportunity to serve each other?

What if this experience is giving me exactly what I asked for?

What if everyone in our country learns to care for each other during this time?

With all the changes in the world lately, I have heard a lot of doom-and-gloom, hopeless predictions. Having survived Covid easily and with no lasting issues at all, (and with all 3 of us having our lungs be completely unaffected), I have faced a lot of “what if”‘s in my personal life.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the negative prediction is more realistic than the positive outcome. Maybe a lot of my “what if up”‘s were pie-in-the-sky. But I do know a lot of people who have become less polarized politically. And I have seen people work together in smaller venues, if not with the population at large. I have gotten better at staying calm, and the pandemic did lead to me landing my dream job. Our yoga community definitely has grown closer through this.

And the few “what if”‘s that actually happened, were far from the worst case scenario. I eventually did go back to work, and it was the best thing for me and for the students. And of course we did catch the virus, but we were fine in the end.

So I thought I would share some of the “what if”‘s that I have dealt with in my personal life, as well as the corresponding “what if up”‘s.

What if….

What if new strains of the virus develop, that are resistant to the vaccines?

What if not enough people get vaccinated, so we never reach herd immunity?

What if the economy never recovers?

What if we are never able to stop social distancing and mask wearing?

What if my heart was damaged by the virus?

What if the virus caused other lasting damage, that we don’t know about?

What if some of the 548,000 people in this country who have died of Covid, had more to contribute to the world than I do (and yet I recovered and they didn’t)?

What if I will never be good enough to deserve to have survived instead of those others?

What if we have a homelessness crisis when the eviction moratorium ends?

What if people are always afraid to hug?

What if people who have had the virus are stigmatized and treated as second class citizens?

And now, let’s look at the more realistic possibilities!

Rob unboxing his new boat motor!

What if “Up”…

What if the vaccines cover ever variant of the virus, and the biggest hurdle is just waiting for people to feel comfortable getting back to “normal”?

What if the vaccine becomes available to everyone who wants it, by the middle of summer, and enough people are immune that we actually are all going to parties and barbecues on the Fourth of July (celebrating on the Fourth is a goal that a lot of people in the US have in mind)?

What if people gain a new appreciation for small businesses and do more to support their local economy as everything reopens?

What if every woman is showing off their new lipstick at the beach this summer, mask-free and feeling safe at parties?

What if I break 10 minute miles in a 5K this summer, and go on to run my first 10K?

What if my immune system–which killed off the virus before it could spread anywhere other than my head–keeps going strong and I write a blog post on my 100th birthday?

What if God–or whoever is in charge of the universe–knows who I am, and has a plan that I will not understand in this lifetime, that involves me being here and me being as I am?

What if it is okay not to know all of life’s answers right now?

What if housing becomes affordable again?

What if everyone appreciates hugs more, and hugs whenever they can?

What if we all realize that we are lucky to not be among the 548,000 who did not survive, and we all take the time to gain the most from this lifetime?

Health, Philosophy

Better than Touching the Floor: 3 Lessons I Learned on the Yoga Mat

Tight hips and inner bliss are not mutually exclusive!

This week brings with it a very happy anniversary for me. Monday will mark my fifth year of practicing at Moonlight Yoga. (You can find the story of my yoga journey here.)

As the date of my “yoga-versary” was getting closer, I noticed that I was getting very frustrated with myself in class. It’s been almost five years, I told myself, and I still almost never touch the floor. I still need to modify almost every pose I do. That normally doesn’t bother me at all, but somehow, the number “five” was giving me a case of the “should have’s.”

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with yoga, the physical practice is only one of the eight limbs. Over the past five years my mind has also improved its flexibility, so I knew that I needed to redefine my thought pattern. I could stop thinking about my limitations and challenges and start counting all of the blessings that my practice has brought me.

Triangle is one of my favorites, and I do it my way!

I don’t always touch the floor…but I can almost run 10 minute miles.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to love my body.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have lost 60 pounds.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have given up drinking.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to see my value.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found my dream job.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I am a part of a tight-knit community.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found friends who challenge me to be the best me possible.

I could go on and on with this list. Yoga has enabled every major life change that I have made over the past five years. And in the grand scheme of things, it really does not matter if I touch the floor!

So today, I wanted to share some of the unexpected lessons that I have gained from my yoga practice:

My teacher and mentor, Cass

1. Everybody isn’t watching.

When I first started practicing yoga, I set up my mat in the back of the room. I hoped that nobody would see my overweight body attempting the poses with a ton of modifications. When nobody ever said anything about how I looked–or how anyone else looked, for that matter–I got brave and moved closer to the front of the room.

What has surprised me over the years, is that a lot of people (in class!) seem to assume that I am very flexible, because I have been practicing for so long. Which means that they absolutely have not been watching me! The truth is that everybody is focused on their own practice, so they don’t notice (or care) what I am doing.

This translates to life off of the mat as well. So many times I have worried about what people would say when they noticed choices that I had made in my life. I held off on giving up alcohol, because I thought it would be awkward to explain during a party. But once again, nobody noticed or cared what was in my glass.

2. Growth is not a straight line.

When I first started practicing yoga, I noticed significant improvements in my flexibility, right away. It wasn’t long until I was touching my ankles on forward bends and coming closer and closer to touching the floor.

Then, unexpectedly, my hands could only reach my knees.

Over time, I learned that my flexibility corresponded with my emotional state, stress level, and degree to which I was caring for myself, among other things. Sometimes it still feels like two steps forward and one step back. But that means that I am still moving forward.

At the beginning of almost every class, my teacher, Cass, says, “Anything you can do today, is good enough.”

I have found this to be true with any major change that I have tried to make in my habits. My weight loss, for example, has been all over the place. I started out on fire, and lost 10 pounds easily. Then I gained 3 back. And so it went. At one point I lost 20 pounds and regained 10.

Currently I have lost 60 and regained 14. But the journey continues. It’s easy to take and all-or-nothing mindset and declare failure at the first setback. But that is a recipe for never succeeding.

Pyramid always makes my legs happy!

3. Listen to your inner voice.

When I first started practicing yoga, Cass stayed near me through most of the class, so that she could discretely show me how to modify the poses and use props in order to get the most out of my physical practice. As time went on, I became more independent and learned to do what I needed to do in order to feel the right stretch, no matter how it looked.

There were a few times when I would stay after class and ask for suggestions on how to modify a pose. Cass never told me what to do in these cases. In fact, she had to say very little! As I demonstrated how the pose looked when I did it, I would modify it on my own. All she had to do was reassure me that it was perfectly fine for me to do it that way.

Through yoga, I learned that I am the expert on my own body, and that if I listen, I will know what it needs. Of course, the same has proven to be the case with my mind and with my life choices.

Like most people, I have a lot of well-meaning friends who like to give advice. And like most people, I have made bad situations worse, through following that advice. I know that the people giving the advice meant me no harm, but the truth is that I know myself better than anyone else. If I listen to my inner voice, I will know what I need to do.

So here I am, getting ready for my five year yoga-versary on Monday! I am looking forward to many, many more years of joy and lessons–both on the mat and off!

You can check out Cass’s yoga classes on Moonlight Yoga’s Facebook page. She posts a live streamed class for a donation every Tuesday and Thursday morning. You can also see her previously recorded classes at any time on her page.

January, Philosophy

The Evolution of a Story

Yesterday was January 23, which is a significant date for me. For the past two years, I have struggled to come up with some way to commemorate that date, to turn it from a very negative memory into something positive.

This year it passed without me realizing it, until bedtime.

The 2017-18 school year, which was my 14th year of teaching special education, began with hurricane Harvey ending the first week early. Which was a wonderful blessing, because the first four days of school already had me considering a career change.

My class was overwhelming, but I was not physically injured until after we came back to school. I spent my birthday on assault leave, with a shoulder injury that was never properly diagnosed or treated. (It is only because my yoga teacher–who is not a physical therapist or doctor–worked with me, doing stretches, while I was waiting for access to medical treatment that never happened, that I currently have a full range of motion with my left arm).

When I returned from leave, nothing good had changed. I am not going to tell the details of what ensued over the following 4 months, but it was escalating, it was constant, and it was often sexual in nature. Yes, I sought help, repeatedly, but I am not retelling that part of the story either. It is in the past, and it is fine staying there.

January 23 was the beginning of the end.

It was that morning that I received the worst of my injuries, and I still have scars from it today. It was when I got people’s attention, and for a short period of time, it seemed that things would change.

And things did change.

Yes, after that day I was at less risk physically, but not only because of the inconsistent support I received. That was the day that something shifted inside me, where I realized that maybe I was worth more than this. Maybe it would be less scary to leave and to chance losing income and possibly losing my career. Maybe the status quo was absolutely unacceptable.

We will celebrate March 1, because that was the day I finally left. I took unpaid leave until my contract ran up, and during that time I rested, joined Weight Watchers, and cared for myself, rather than planning my next moves.

When I started working again, I took two years off of teaching, until I found my current position. There were initially some challenges in going back. I would get emotionally triggered by situations that reminded me of what happened at my previous job, and in the two years where I wasn’t teaching, I noticed that my memory and ability to multi-task were not nearly as good as they used to be. But all of that improved with time, and other than the scars, I seem to have no lasting negative effects from the trauma.

Which brings me to today. I nearly missed the “anniversary,” and I noticed that realizing the date, did not bring up any strong negative emotions for me. In fact, writing this did not either. Yes, I skipped over some parts of the story, but that was only because I did not think telling them was necessary for writing this post.

However, I do feel strong emotions today. But rather than anger, vengeance, or fear, the emotions I am feeling are appreciation, love, and gratitude.

I am grateful for my yoga teacher, who never cancelled a 6 am class during that time, even when I was the only one who showed up. I am grateful for the conversations we had, and especially for the time we prayed for the student who was hurting me.

I am grateful for my friend at work, who helped me to find a more supportive union to work with, took me out for coffee after work, and encouraged me through texts during the day.

I am grateful for my union rep, who tried to find a way to help me and acted as my lifeline of sanity.

I am grateful for the lawyer who helped me to get out of the situation, even when there was not anything he could do beyond that.

I am grateful for the assistants in my program, who did what they could do to keep things running and moving forward.

I am grateful for the co-worker who came to check up on me that day and was able to intervene.

I am grateful to myself, as I was ultimately able to leave and to find a much better path for my life to take.

During the situation, one of my friends shared a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, which said that, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” But I don’t remember the silence of my friends, although there were plenty of people who looked away and pretended they weren’t seeing what they were seeing.

I remember being surrounded in love and feeling more connected to those around me, than ever. I remember the many people who were not silent in their words and actions.

And that is why I never want to forget this date.

Minimalism, Philosophy

Why I Love Facebook

Clearly, I love Facebook.

I have deleted my account three times now, and two of those times I ended up creating a new one within two years. I have deactivated numerous times, never for more than a month. Most times, I only made it a few days.

On Wednesday, January 13, I deleted my account for the third time.

I don’t need to tell you why I deleted it. You might not know my specifics, but you know what kind of environment exists on social media, and you know how much time can be wasted on something that causes stress rather than joy. I deleted my account for the same reasons that I deleted it the other two times.

So the question is, why do I keep going back? I know how much stress and unhappiness Facebook causes in my life, so why do I love it?

I actually had to do some research, as well as introspection, to get to the bottom of that question.

So here are the reasons I love Facebook:

1. It makes photo sharing very easy.

Face it. There is nothing easier than uploading a picture from my phone, so that I can show my adventures in real time. Sifting through and posting them on my blog takes more time. (And never mind that I actually have to make the post interesting!). I could probably share albums from my Google Photos or Photobucket accounts, but that requires having email addresses.

Now that I have left Facebook, I will not be able to share our adventures in the same way. Not as many people will read my weekly posts, and the pictures will not be posted in real time. I think the solution here lies in finding other fun ways to connect with pictures, such as sending photos as post cards. Also, I can remind myself that this inconvenience is a small trade-off, considering how much I did not enjoy facebook.

2. It makes me feel like I am doing something.

First there was the pandemic. People were getting sick, losing relatives, and staying inside to try to avoid getting sick. Then there were the BLM protests. Then businesses were struggling during the lockdown and families were having trouble making rent. There was the election, with the hateful, polarized sides. And finally, the attack on the Capitol and the increase in division that seemed to bring.

It is easy to feel helpless. Facebook gave me a place to try and do something. When I could do nothing else, I urged people to work together and to support one another. I couldn’t save the world, but maybe my uplifting words would help. In this way, Facebook was therapeutic.

The problem with slacktivism is that it diverts us from what we actually can do. Maybe I was a refreshing voice in a negative cesspit. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is still a negative cesspit.

In real life, there is a lot I can do. I can teach my students to read. I can teach my students to discuss issues respectfully, listening to both sides. I can seek to understand my friends who have ideas that are different from mine. I can write positive notes and hide them where friends and co-workers will find them. At my yoga studio, I created a gratitude tree, where I hang heart ornaments with reminders of the things we all can be grateful for.

Yes, in real life, there is downtime. There are times when I am at home, just itching to do something that matters. But turning to Facebook eventually becomes draining and all-consuming. It is so easy to get sucked into debates, and it can become disheartening when my message is not received. It can get to the point where, after Facebook, I have no energy left to do the things that actually make a difference.

The solution, I believe, lies in redefining downtime. The times when there is nothing to do, when there is nothing that I can do, are times for rest and renewal. Because there will come a time when I can do things. The tiny things that we all can do, the tiny things that matter so much, require us to take care of ourselves.

3. With Facebook, I never need to let go.

I quit Facebook for a sizable amount of time, the first time around. Then I moved from Michigan to Texas and started a new account so that I could stay in touch with my friends and relatives from Michigan.

By the time I deactivated, I had friends from high school, friends I had grown apart from but kept on my newsfeed, friends from middle school, and even friends I had not seen since the days when I attended Chippewassee Elementary School! I met up with friends I had long since lost touch with. We would usually have a chat on Messenger after we found each other, then fell into the rhythm of liking and commenting on each other’s posts.

While this is definitely a fun plus, the reality is that I live in Texas now. My attention belongs here, in the new life I have created with my family. Sure, I will keep in touch with some of my friends and relatives. We will exchange the occasional text and read everyone’s Christmas letters. But there will be people I never hear from again. And there will be people who drift away and then drift back. That is how relationships and friendships work, and being less focused on the details of everyone’s life and thoughts on Facebook, opens up my time and energy to my actual life.

4. Facebook is a relaxing boredom buster

This is the tough one for me. When I am bored or need to relax, I like to have something relatively mindless, that does not require my full attention or a long chunk of time. Facebook easily fits the bill. I have peeked at my newsfeed while waiting in line, unwound while catching up on Facebook when I have 10 minutes until I have to go somewhere, and rewarded myself with a little Facebook break on a stressful day.

The thing is, Facebook works better than anything else I have found, in this respect. This is probably the biggest reason I have kept going back to it.

However, the boredom-busting quality of Facebook does not outweigh my reasons for leaving. Therefore, I need to find a replacement. I am still working on this, to be honest. I think magazines and possibly simple games life Solitaire might work well. I enjoy loom knitting too, but that requires a little more concentration.

5. Facebook helps me to feel less lonely

Sometimes, especially during the shutdown, I feel lonely, and Facebook provides that connection that I have been seeking. My friends don’t feel like texting all day (and neither do I , really), and Facetime conversations can only go so far. Facebook is something we can all use at our leisure, to stay connected during times when we feel anything but.

Sometimes this was a great thing, but there were also many pitfalls. I encountered well-meaning strangers in Facebook groups, who misinterpreted a simple lonely mood and overreacted. This often resulted in me receiving bad advice, or in me overthinking and causing my mood to feel worse.

Sharing ideas is a fun way to connect, but Facebook tends to become an echo chamber where dissenting ideas are not welcome. There is not always a lot of effort to find common ground or to learn from each other.

Instead, the blogging community is a much better way for me to socialize and connect. Different ideas are welcome, the discussions are thoughtful, and everyone is warm and respectful.

And after I have read all of the blogs I care to? Then it really is time to enjoy my own company and learn to be alone without getting stuck in my head.

So here I am, living life without Facebook once again. I have felt much better since deleting my account, and I am confident that this time will be the last time I leave the site. I am addressing the strings that kept pulling me back, while remembering the reasons why I left.

What are your thoughts on social media? If you no longer use it, how do you meet the needs that your newsfeed once filled?

Philosophy

Soul Tired

I live in the U.S. Not only that, but I live in Texas, which is arguably as American as you can get in America. We might pretend otherwise, but politics are on the forefront of everyone’s minds here, right now.

Last Wednesday was a perfect day for me. It was the first day that the students were back from break, and a number of virtual students had started attending in person. One class doubled in size! Our campus was full of excitement and energy, and I loved getting reacquainted with families I haven’t seen in person since last March.

Teaching takes time, energy, and focus. Teaching special education and leading a team takes even more. And doing all of that during a global pandemic takes everything you have. Nobody had time to look at news articles or social media during the day.

So I found out about the attack on the Capitol on my drive home, while I was stuck in traffic.

Immediately, my heart sank. We have been moving further and further apart, more and more polarized. And social media provides the perfect echo chambers, where these misunderstandings can grow.

I worried about the fact that our country seemed to be in chaos. I worried about my friends who have different views than I do, and whether our friendships could weather whatever storm is coming.

Discussing anything that is going on, is impossible. Because we can’t even agree on the basic facts. With information so readily available, anyone can be an expert on anything, and it is easy to publish lies unchecked. Who am I to say that the story I believe is the real one? All the research and fact-checking is hurting my brain. One of my co-workers put it best, when she said, “I am soul tired.”

Here is a thing that I learned about the brain, when I was focusing on losing weight, stopping drinking, and making other changes. I learned that willpower is a finite resource. Willpower is regulated by the prefrontal cortex, which is also responsible for decision making, emotional regulation, and planning. (You can read more about that here and here).

When the prefrontal cortex has to work overtime, it becomes fatigued. When we have to make too many decisions, we have less brainpower left for willpower. When we rely on willpower alone, we eventually get tired and cave. (Here is an article on that).

When I went back to work, I knew that I would be making a lot of decisions throughout my day. So, I set myself up for success with my habits. I set up grocery delivery and planned my meals. I got into routines with housework and yoga. I limited extraneous decisions, so that I could focus on my job. I limited options for overeating, and alcohol was off the table.

However, I slipped everytime something new was added to the equation. We are in a pandemic with no leadership. We are not doctors, and we are not economists. Yet we are expected to sift through information on both. Vastly different reports of the “truth” are out there, and we are expected to become instant experts and discern the facts from the fiction.

No wonder I have become more emotional and fallen back on old coping mechanisms! My prefrontal cortex is at its limit. My brain is tired.

For me, revamping my old routines and focusing on the things I can do that actually make a difference (and the information that allows me to do those things) is key. I don’t need to read any predictions about the pandemic. They will paralyze me with worry and keep me from doing what I can do now. I do not need to read about the minutiae of what is going on in Washington. I do need to be aware of the cases of Covid in our county, so I can take precautions accordingly. I do need to know that status of the vaccine, so I can get it when it is my turn.

I am not going to change the world. And letting myself fall into survival mode is not going to do any good for anyone. But no matter what happens, children still need to learn to read. People still need the positivity I have to offer.

In caring for myself, I can give the things I am able to give.