We all are busy—in fact, most of us wear our busyness like a badge.
I am a yoga and mindfulness teacher and writer, a mother of two children, an avid community volunteer, and a wife. Bouncing between worlds is a skill I have mastered over the years, but it requires a level of organization and lots of (dare I say) multitasking.
I hate that word and the concept it represents. Humans do not experience satisfaction from completing portions of several tasks at once. Instead, we are suited to single tasking, a deeper investment in one moment at a time. Our brains thank us for single tasking with the chemical release of dopamine that generates feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and happiness. Our brains actually reward us for cultivating deeper connections.
So this past weekend, while I was catching up on the latest episode of “This is Us” with my 15-year-old daughter, I decided to delete some old emails from my inbox in the spirit of being efficient.
Miraculously, through my delete-button-pressing-frenzy, an email from July 2017 caught my eye (yes, I still had emails from 2017 in my inbox, hence the need for a deleting frenzy). It was from an old friend named Kim. As I realized that this email was our last correspondence, other than a yearly holiday card, I felt a wave of sadness over a missed connection. Kim is one of those rare folks not on social media, which is an interesting side note because “seeing” people on social media gives us that false sense of intimacy and actually dissuades us from reaching out for a direct connection.
I decided to respond to that old email, and sent a quick note letting her know I was thinking of her and hoped all was well and asked if we could catch up sometime soon. I found myself really hoping she still checked that email account.
Kim and I met on a two-week long boat trip during the summer between our junior and senior years of high school. I remember standing next to 10 other kids all waiting to board the 53-foot sailboat that was to be our home for the next 14 days, and there she was with her enormous bag and an even bigger smile. She had this gorgeous blond hair, blue eyes, an amazing Georgia southern drawl, and the most infectious laugh. She was fascinated with my New York accent and curly brown hair. We spent two weeks sleeping in the same tiny space (basically a non-working boat bathroom with two tiny bunk beds) and learning how to scuba dive.
We visited each other that next year and saw each other periodically in the years following. Over the last almost 30 years, we have gone long periods of time without being in regular touch, but it never needed to be said that we were always rooting for each other.
Three hours after I sent the email, I got a response back. She was doing well and would love to chat. We scheduled a phone date for a few days later. At 11:15 a.m. on Monday, I found myself the slightest bit nervous as I called her cell number. As soon as I heard her voice, it warmed me from the inside out. The way she said my name with her beautiful Georgia drawl was like a cozy blanket enveloping me and reminding me that some friendships are lifelong.
Our conversation was easy and normal, as if we had spoken last week. The whole time we talked, I could not wipe the smile from my face. She told me my voice was the same, that I hadn’t aged a bit, and that she felt like no time had passed. It was then I had to remind her that my daughter was basically the age we were when we met. She laughed—that incredibly joyful laugh that made me feel for a moment like my 16-year-old self again.
There are people in your life who connect you to the most authentic version of yourself. In that moment, I realized that she was one of those people. People come into your life for different reasons and her entering mine in some measure shaped the course of my life. Partly because I met her, I ended up attending college in the South and marrying a Southerner. She had opened my eyes to a different part of the country.
After we got off the phone, vowing to stay in more regular touch and with the beginnings of a plan for a visit, I started to think more about this experience. The sadness I felt when I saw that old email was steeped in a craving for connection not just to her, but also to that special part of myself that she brought out in me. And equally strong was the power of the joy I felt when offered the deep rich re-connection to someone who authentically knows me (that dopamine hit did its thing).
This inspired me to mindfully explore what else offered me that connection to this authentic place inside myself. As a yoga and mindfulness teacher, I think and speak often about the importance of maintaining these true connections with others and ourselves. I found myself asking: How could I let one of them go? There was judgment in my question to myself; my inner voice was not being an old friend in that moment.
Then I thought about what else offers me that powerful connection to my most true self, like connecting with an old friend. Yoga was, of course, at the top of the list. It is truly an old friend to me. When I am teaching my students or practicing on my mat, I feel like the most authentic version of myself.
Last week, I shared this story with my classes and asked them to think of what in their life makes them feel like the most authentic version of themselves. I asked them to view their yoga practice as an old friend, a friend who knows and accepts you without judgment or expectation, a friend who even if you haven’t connected in a while, you know is always rooting for you and supporting you.
I then asked them to take it a step further and realize (as I had) that we can be an old friend to ourselves as well. We can speak to ourselves without judgment, and instead with compassion. By treating ourselves the same way we would treat that old friend, we then tap into the truest version of ourselves.
Truthfully, this story is a thank you to my old friend Kim and to my old friend yoga. Even the most mindful of us need to be reminded sometimes to reach out and say hello to an old friend—both the authentic people in our lives and our own authentic selves.
After we hung up the phone, I dug through some old photos (you know, the ones printed on photo paper) and found this picture of the two of us from that summer. I sent it to her with the caption: “Hello old friend.”