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.