I have been procrastinating writing since May of this year.
May was supposed to be the month I completed my great novel. Instead of locking myself in a Parisian flat with intermittent trips out for coffee and croissants, I made my way to the Midwest to put down roots.
My story has had many versions in my head: the embellished version, the happy ending, the edgy-dark edition, the fantastical one, the Hollywood-movie version, the comic turn, the addiction story, the yogini tale, the victim, the conquerer…the list goes on.
My biggest fear has been that whatever I write will be crap. So, I decided to write the truth—this way if it sucks, it’s the Truth that is to blame, not me , its faithful vessel. As I write today I sit in the hallway of my yoga guru’s studio, awaiting a session of inspiration and pushing the limits of my flexibility. The Soho streets are riddled with people. Some shoppers, some tourists, often one in the same.
I return to this neighborhood time and again on my visits to New York, the neighborhood where I lived for one year. Where I struggled for one year to reconnect with my mother, my family and myself. Where I found betrayal and personal power, misery and—finally, and end to workaholism.
I replaced it with a traipse further into binge-drinking, sexual escapades and a downward spiral of the spirit that culminated in December of 2011.
Earlier that month, dampened by the bone-chilling Winter and cold reception at my new-ish job, I traveled to Spring street for a yoga class. Earlier that week, I mistook the start time by 30 minutes and although I was early, I arrived just as the opening breathing exercise started. Rather than change in a hurry and go in anyway, I watched from the street below as the routine began, feeling excluded, alone and dejected. It was this prison that I kept myself—it was the only place I reliably knew since my earliest memories.
From within this cage my spirit suffered, dwindled and grew small and weak. Instinctively, I knew that yoga stoked my internal fires, pounded mental strength into me through the at times punishing postures, then offering relief just as I thought I would crack or faint.
Around this same time, feelings of depression came on stronger—familiar tones that also accompanied me for as long as I could remember, but in varying degrees. On this particularly down day, it was all I could do to make it to class. This time I was not late, but made it in, though my mind was racked with thoughts of suicide. We began the routine of contorting our bodies in various shapes, or asanas.
You know how sometimes you hear the right thing at the right time? As if a message was crafted just for you?
The instructor, Raphael, a lean, tall gay man with a patrician demeanor and suitably Roman nose, seemed to read my mind. “You want to die?”
Me: Yes. Please—immediately if not sooner.
“Bikram says, you aren’t that lucky. Then he laughs like a crazy man. This is true—you are not lucky enough to die. You get to suffer through this 90 minutes of heat and hard work. You will be strong, then not want to die.”
While simplistic, this sounded like a pretty good deal to me. Though I hadn’t made the connection before, it did seem reasonable that to end life easily (without mess) was a luck that didn’t seem available to me (or anyone else, if I got out of my own selfish perspective for a second).
I wasn’t able at the time to make the leap to see that all our waking/living life is an extension of the Divine, but I could see that I wasn’t able to escape my life. Something had to change. I intuited that through dying, I would be reunited with the source of all life, though this isn’t a book on theology, death, or the afterlife.
Within weeks I made myself a promise: I had to do yoga and take control of my life. Up until this point I had been “performing” and acting to get ahead on the path I had been set upon years earlier. It wasn’t a conscious choice, just what happened to me. At this point, it wasn’t working anymore. At all.
If I followed up on my promise and still wanted to kill myself in one year’s time, I had my own permission to do it. Sounds pretty simple, right? Only it wasn’t.
Years of hiding my feelings, my intentions, my anger, sadness, depression, alcohol abuse, neediness, superficiality and sensitivity created the prison of my own making. How to get out would be a messy process. One that would require breaking things, putting them back together, then possibly breaking them again.
It would mean that some relationships would be torched and never repaired. It would mean taking an unyielding personal inventory of my own truth and moral failings, to borrow a phrase from AA. It would mean learning to deal with myself in a way that I never had before.
It would mean listening to myself, really quieting to see what was me and what was the bullshit that I had greedily ingested to avoid pain, looking bad or acknowledging any fear.
Of course, all I thought I was hiding was pretty evident to most around me. Maybe not the whole picture, but I didn’t ring with vitality, heartfeltness, authenticity or love the way that I wanted to. I still don’t know how to embody all this and maintain a strict, powerful adherence to any single commitment. Perhaps this is my dharma in life—to be a wanderer, putting on costumes, then removing them when it’s time.
I like the idea of being a beacon for compassion and freedom, for if the past year has taught me anything, it is how to be free. How to find space in my corpus no matter where I am, who I am with or how I am feeling.
That, my friends, is true freedom.
Going back to that cold Winter in Manhattan, I intuited that yoga was part of my plan, but wasn’t sure what else should be. How to figure that out? Push on everything around me. Push really hard. Push on it until it broke, gave way or transformed.
I learned how to act on the environment around me—admittedly super clumsily. Not that I hadn’t done it before, but before I was always doing it in some (often misguided) attempt to push things forward. I had gone “forward” to a point of total misery, so that wasn’t the modus operandi any longer. I was in a full-out war with my reality.
Always a bit high energy, sensitive and fiery (what I would later learn through Ayurveda is an imbalance of Pitta, the fire element), I would approach methodically where I could, Yogically/Yoda-ishly…and the rest would be through sheer force of will and necessity in a scorched-earth tactic that was a loving ode to my Viking ancestors.
Twenty months into this personal revolution, I can say my connection to the eb and flow of life, the divine, the Universe, God, whatever your framework calls natural law and spirituality, is much stronger. I have faith now. I stop and appreciate sunsets. I am nicer, slower, more compassionate, more service-oriented, more patient and I can almost do a handstand without using the wall.
Yet there are still days when I don’t want to deal with myself. When my internal dialogue mirrors that of James Tolker’s character in Top Gun, when my self-esteem plummets to amoebic proportions. Making peace with these, too, is part of the work.
I used to blame everything around me for these feelings—get mad about them and shut down, cut people off. I still do a bit too much of the latter, but I don’t shut down anymore. I am trying to get more curious about them. What is it that is trying to communicate with me—why do I feel so out of the flow?
It doesn’t always work.
It’s easy to numb out with a movie, sleep, wine, chocolate, pizza—anything but to feel that terrible. I honestly don’t know if what I go through is any better or worse than what others experience.
I’d guess probably somewhere in the middle, with perhaps the exception of the outlying really terrible days.
Luckily they happen infrequently now, and I find depth and meaning in them instead of evidence of my own inadequacy.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise