“Stop Things,” she said.
I looked at her blankly. I saw her words travel through the air between us, soft petals of a flower swaying in the wind. I saw them hover around my face, near my eyes, and attempt to go into my ears. I saw them struggle to find their way in and then I saw them give up and use my hair as vines to launch themselves back into the ether. My body sagged into its own weight as the words drifted away from me.
The moment sits frozen in time in my heart as I recall it now. It seems to have happened weeks ago, but in reality it was only yesterday. The subway station hummed with midday activity around us as commuters gingerly chased after the minutes trickling devilishly from their days. My boxing trainer stood in front of me at the parting of ways, me, uptown to teach, and she, with her eyes searched for a way to help me hear the words, take the time for you.
In one of my recent dreams, I found myself in a foreign land traveling on a New York City bus with the wrong number, moving too fast in the wrong direction. The driver was a man whose composition seemed to consist mostly of metal and sinew, his gaunt and pain-stricken face bore holes into me as I tried to tell him first that his bus number was wrong and then that we were heading for disaster.
He told me, “Yeah I know, whatever, I’ll fix it, eventually.”
I panicked. I felt out of control of my own destiny, white-knuckling the seat backs as the bus angled dangerously towards houses on streets that were narrowing every second. The bus lurched onto a street that made its way up a hill, crashing into doorframes and window fixtures. In my dream, I was not able to handle the speed, the lack of control and the realization that I had left things behind that I cared about greatly.
I existed only outside of my body as it healed and mended itself from my decision to jump from the unruly vehicle. I witnessed myself trying to exist with a broken back, with bloody footsteps and with a face of desperation. In the dream, I couldn’t look at myself in mirrors as I was afraid to face my strung out and distorted self. I awoke the following morning with stiffness so pronounced in my back and neck that I was afraid to even move my body. I saw the message written all over my shattered skin.
I’m moving too fast, I need to stop and rest.
The truth is, in any life situation you can always stop the bus, get off and regroup before you get back on. Perhaps your body needs a rest, to sleep, to eat, to stretch your legs before you get back on the road. Stopping things is one of the hardest and most necessary ways in which we need to take care of ourselves. When you are compiling your list of gifts for the holidays, add a line for yourself.
This morning, the online classroom I use to interact with my students experienced technical difficulties; I couldn’t access their reflections, and my thoughts immediately turned stressful. Then, I remembered my dream, I remembered my heart palpitating, I remembered my stomach churning and my back breaking when I finally decided to jump off.
So, I took a bath.
It was the simplest and yet the most difficult task I could undertake. Even though the entire activity probably took less than an hour, I just couldn’t allow myself to relax. Even after turning my phone to flight mode to stave off any calls or notifications, my mind was still reeling with what I wasn’t getting done, with how I was slowing down my progress in changing the world. Right. Because taking a bath is what will alter the state of everything that I’ve been working hard for. It may sound ridiculous, but that is how my mind keeps me going, makes me stay on the bus that is going too fast.
I came back to myself enough to hear the need for my most self-loving action. I need to write.
The dance of my life is not always perfect; sometimes it’s slow and heavy and I feel as though I’m dragging. Other (most) times it is so fast I trip over my own feet. The biggest challenge is learning to flow free and enjoy the balance between the two.
Occasionally, to just stop things, breathe.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas
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