Only Time for Satya

guiness-fish
Self Portrait 

My husband’s one pet peeve of my driving is that when I follow a too-slow driver that I cannot pass, I unconsciously pulse my foot on and off the accelerator as I creep closer and closer to the bumper. I guess I think I can will the car in front of me to move faster with my own gas pedal. It never works, and only leaves my husband seasick, and me irritable that I cannot make the Lincoln in front of me drive my speed.

I often treat my husband like that poky Lincoln when we are running late. At 5:45 in the morning, when I am trying to get us out the door for my 6:00 a.m. yoga class, he is putting on his pants and checking the weather app on his phone. I am reluctant to order him around (because I do not want to be Bossy Wife ever again) so I hover, dropping comments (are you ready yet? Can I do anything to help you? I really don’t want to be late) because I hate being late. But yet, I often am. It is easy to blame him when we show up late together, but I know the truth: I would still be rushing in at the last minute even if it was just me.

My mother says I have always tried to pack every day full. On my seventh or eighth birthday, my family managed to throw me a birthday party, went shopping, and saw the Christmas tree lighting on the square in my hometown. She said I still cried afterwards because there was one more thing I wanted to do. As a young adult in college, I always tried to make one more thing happen. I see my college self in my current students who run from workouts to class, breathless and sweaty, dripping coffee on their sleeves. I see it in my student who, at the last minute, signs up for twenty-one credit hours, then flustered and overworked, drops them, one by one, until she is down to thirteen credits and has to take extra courses in the summer to make it up. I see this, because these are all still things I do. The only difference is that in 2017, I have a smart phone that lets me contact students, colleagues, and friends when I am running late for meetings and coffee dates. Which is often.

This semester I began with a goal to be at least ten minutes early to my morning classes. I failed at that immediately. The first day I told myself I had time for a five-mile run because I could get ready in twenty minutes. And I did—but had to skip coffee and a real breakfast. What I sometimes forget to tell myself is that my husband is the one who keeps me fed and caffeinated; I also sometimes forget to tell myself I need these things.

When we studied satya during my two-hundred hour teacher training, we talked about being so honest with our time and commitments that we never had to apologize for not making our deadlines. The idea of being able to live this way blew me away. I had been saying “I’m sorry, I’m running late” so long that I had almost gotten used to it. In faculty meetings, I often hear a colleague talk about margin—leaving enough time between events to get from one place to another. I used to think of margin as time to spend, as I used to think of food and sleep as something to skip. Maybe I could get away with my ignorance then, but the more I learn about holistic health, and the more I honestly observe my own body, the more I know see my unhappiness and stress when I shortchange my sleep and my time. Just because I can get ready in twenty minutes, or go to work on four hours of sleep, doesn’t mean that I should. I know that now, and ignoring this satya will be detrimental to me as well as the people in my life.

In learning the truth about how to care for my body, I’ve also been confronted with my own tendency to not speak the truth about my relationships. In my last marriage to an irresponsible person, I often found myself resentfully cleaning up messes and trying to “mother” him out the door so that we wouldn’t be late. In public, I put on a smile and came up with excuses for why he didn’t have a job or why we were in debt. Instead of saying what I wanted (please clean up your messes; please respect my time) I would internalize the words—because they would lead to a fight I couldn’t win—and express, passive-aggressively, my annoyance. That didn’t work. In this marriage, I sometimes still fall into my old habit of trying to make him do what I want instead of honestly expressing what frustrates me, and what I need. Giving myself margin means I have time to realize I have a safe relationship, and can be truthful even if it means an uncomfortable conversation. Satya, it turns out, is not only about not lying but actively telling the truth.

Because I’m being honest, I know I still have a problem with time (I wrote the original draft of this with twenty minutes to spare until my deadline), and a problem with tailgating. I would still prefer it if everyone operated at the same pace as me. But the thing about honesty is that once you see it, it’s hard to go backward. Now, rushing from one thing to the next makes me feel almost sick to my stomach, giving me some empathy for my seasick husband sitting next to me in the car.

 

Donald Trump Teaches Me Ahimsa

gun-knot

Ahimsa: the Buddhist and Hindu tradition of nonviolence towards all living things.

The week before I started my 300-hour yoga teacher training, a portion of America picked Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. Fifteen months of ugly public discourse ended not with the sane, flawed candidate I hoped would be elected, but with a man who has used words as violence towards women, minorities, immigrants, veterans, disabled people, his opposition, and the press. I thought after the election our nation would reset to the more passive-aggressive, shrouded language of public decency I was used to. Even if everyone wasn’t happy with Madame Clinton, I thought the more outspoken racists would retreat to the shadows. I could stop arguing with so many people on Facebook, and quit worrying about the what-ifs that came with Mr. Trump’s daily Tweets. I was, clearly, very wrong.

The day after the election I re-posted an article to Facebook that a family member found offensive, so this person called me a bigot. To say I felt hurt was an understatement;  I cried in the bathroom at work when I should have been supervising my students workshop their essays. I spent the rest of the day either crying with distraught students, or trying to talk about the election like a mature grown-up in my classes; anything to avoid obsessing over this rift with my family member. But by the time I got to yoga class that night, it was all I could think about. Teardrops fell on my mat during every downward dog. During my 200-hour teacher training we had discussed ahimsa, the yoga idea of nonviolence. In the book The Yamas and Niyamas  by Deborah Adele, she points out that one way we are often violent towards ourselves and others is by worrying.  We don’t trust ourselves or them to handle the situation, so we hurt ourselves by obsessing over it. I knew this as I cried through each chakra, but I couldn’t figure out how to let go of my worries.

The next day it became clear that no one was going to figure out nonviolence for me. The next night when I posted a statement asking the president-elect to denounced racism, my phone lit up with objections: why wasn’t I talking about all the Trump supporters getting beaten up? What about the people hating Donald Trump?  I started to feel the shaky feeling that comes from this kind of confrontation, and then instead of replying, I muttered, “Not today Satan,” and deleted the Facebook app off my phone. I grew up learning that “A soft answer turns away wrath,” but I seldom saw people model it, or the biblical idea of heaping coals of kindness on an enemy’s head. So three hours later, I went for as much kindness and burning coals as I could manage in my response, and ended my response by wishing the most belligerent respondent a blessed day. The comments stopped. I stopped feeling sick and angry. As I meditated on ahimsa over the last month, I found I could give myself a few extra minutes, and a little more charity, before I responded. This has worked in my internet life, as well as in my real life, where I work, worship, and spend family holidays with people who believe and vote very differently from me.

But the violence I’ve encountered since the election has been nothing compared to that of people of color. Two weeks before Christmas, an African-American student at my university woke up to find a note on his car saying that “people” at our college campus were tired of his presence and if he came back “action would be taken.” He live off campus, so the person who did this figured out where he lived or knew he was a student. No one knows yet who this individual is, and when my students asked me what they could do, I told them it wasn’t their job to go hunt down suspected racists on campus (some of them looked disappointed). Instead, I gave them notecards and told them they could write an encouraging note to the student. When I gave him the notes a few days later, his face lit up with a surprise and a “Thank you!” Sometimes ahimsa means silence. Sometimes, however, it means a very intentional choice of words.

I felt an echo of this student’s surprise myself when three friends sent me messages to say they valued what I have been posting and writing since the election. One specifically referenced how “gracious and warm” I have been. I have seldom felt gracious and warm on Facebook, but if my attempts at it are making a difference, then I will continue down this path. I am still negotiating how to speak against injustice while maintaining ahimsa in my responses; I especially still struggle how to stay calm and non-violent inside myself when I see one of Mr Trump’s tweets or hear a clip from one of his speeches on the radio. But what I have learned is that intentional words of kindness, and more often than not, intentional silence, has been the first step in bringing a little more peace and justice in my world.

New Essay!

I woke up in a rather foul mood today, but some of that was alleviated when I saw an email from Topology Magazine letting me know they would be publishing an essay I submitted last month. The essay is called “How the Light Gets In” which is a short essay made up of short segments centered around light. Topology’s call for submissions was on the theme of Sabbath, and each section of the essay is about finding brief respites of light in dark and cold places. I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.topologymagazine.org/essay/how-the-light-gets-in/vermont-lake