Autonomy has always been an attractive word to me.
As an only child, from the Gen X, latch-key kid generation, being autonomous has always been my default setting—an innate mindset that was perhaps in excess at times.
One definition I found from a google search says autonomous means “having the freedom to govern itself or control its own affairs.” Most of us feel this way, I think—free and in control of our own affairs. We are responsible in our lives. We show up to work, take care of the household, and maintain good health for the most part. Many of us own homes and can take vacations. Some of us live alone and enjoy long stretches without socializing. Generally, it seems, we have a feeling of free-will and independence.
A Colombian friend of mine in New York City would often tell me that “American women are too independent.” I knew what she meant, but that never meant I was going to pretend to be any less self-sufficient than I had always been. To get away from my mother’s grasp, I started early. By 12 years of age, I was working, doing my own laundry, and insisting on not needing anything from anyone.
This COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up some questions in me regarding this whole autonomy thing.
In quarantine, I have discovered that I may have overrated my own autonomy and self-sufficiency; without realizing it, I’ve been slightly misrepresenting myself—to myself and to others. The pandemic has shone a light on this, as I have had time to reflect and truly “see” the life I’ve been living.
Although, if I’m honest, gaps in my autonomy started becoming clear two years ago. On New Year’s Eve, two years in a row, I prayed to God for total emotional, fiscal, and physical independence. I was never a fan of the traditional resolution—I vowed that my intention was utter autonomy, all around. I was not sure what the physical dependence bit meant at that time, but it sounded holistic to me, and sure enough, the seed was planted—and as with all wonderful things, it has revealed itself to me.
This is what I’ve learned:
My emotional dependency was based on other’s feedback and opinions. It was a type of support that turned into a secret unhealthy one, where I stopped trusting myself. People in Hollywood like to tell you who you are. I am not sure I was aware of this at the time. Arriving in Los Angeles with all the thrill of possibilities and newness was fantastic, yet it revealed a hidden hole within me. The hole was once filled with what my whole life revolved around—something I’d become the master of. I had high-profile clients, mentees who wanted my support and guidance, and money in the bank. I had all my holes filled up…or so I thought.
My big leap to the West coast was a physical one, but more of an emotional one—a bucket list dream that if I had not done, I knew I would never be truly satisfied in life. That was all satisfying and courageous, I suppose, but no one warned me of the transition phase.
I’d lived in Europe and traveled extensively, but no one warned me of the culture shock I would have as a New Yorker in L.A. For a New Yorker, who tends to be very direct, I found myself misread often. Plus, for someone who doesn’t participate in cannabis on any level, I was overwhelmed with how the air reeks of it out here. It’s a different lifestyle completely.
As a result, after the new shiny toy that was L.A. wore off, I was left with a hole that no amount of talking in therapy, yoga, acting, or rendezvous could fill up. One could say that the hole had already been there, and I’d been covering it up with work.
I discovered again that life gives you what you need right at the right moment.
After a codependent situation, I found God.
It’s like the expression, “If you don’t go to God, God will find you.” My hairdresser, Nancy, said, “April, all your yoga is great, but you really need some good old-fashioned, God.” I knew exactly what she meant. And that is when the dedicated, committed seeking began.
As Carmela Soprano says a few times in “The Sopranos” regarding her husband’s dysfunction, “Therapy helps the mind, but only God can help the soul.”
It was at that time that I noticed how I was not as emotionally autonomous as I had thought I was. I realized I was dependent on outside things—people’s opinions and even therapy (which I find very helpful but not as the only modality for healing). I also used intellectualism, diagnosing, and analyzing as escape. I was dependent on knowing and figuring out, yet I had forever taught my students to “be okay with uncertainty.”
In quarantine, however, there has been a huge shift, and this time alone has been some of the most precious and healing time I have ever experienced. I truly believe it’s the act of surrender, or perhaps years of study and practice coming into fruition.
I don’t even care why—I just know that I have not ever had as much self-love and emotional autonomy as I have now. Spending so much quality time with the person I had be glazing over (me), has been healing, strengthening, and a godsend.
I set the intention for fiscal independence at a time when I was done leaning on family for support, and recognized that ultimately I wanted to be the lender and not the borrower. I prayed on that.
Starting over is expensive, and I feel the saying “10 years in the business is an overnight success,” couldn’t be more true. It was the case with my yoga career, and I have no illusions about my new career.
One of the many benefits of having had a successful career before starting over is knowing that success is a series of steps, and requires showing up daily. I am a realist and I persevere. The path is the goal. Let the success be the noise, yet be sure to celebrate victories along the way. I am no longer fiscally dependent and I could not be more grateful for this. God does bring us to the valley, but in that valley He is already in the process of saving us.
Prior to this pandemic, in N.Y.C. and L.A. alike, I paid for yoga classes. I have been practicing since 1999, but I love the workout I get in a class setting. I like being instructed through the class so I don’t have to think. The teacher does the thinking for you in a yoga class—your job is to quiet the chitta vrittis (mind-stuff) that will inevitably arise.
I knew I could do my practice at home, but I wanted to pay for the class atmosphere. In a class, you sweat hardcore, and it’s carved out time with no distractions—no iPhone, no kitchen to go to grab a snack, no corner to dust, and you are simultaneously alone and part of a group.
I was physically dependent on the studios. I was not practicing on my own at all, even though I knew I could. The California life I envisioned was certainly not without hustle, but it was supposed to be more simple. Visions of riding my bike to yoga, cooking, reading, and writing, all in between auditions and jobs, did not really become reality the way I had envisioned (except for the biking to yoga part).
The New Yorker in me was still present. I was programmed to be busy at all times. That attitude benefited me when it came to my work ethic, but it didn’t add to the simpler life I’d been wanting to cultivate.
In addition to paying for lots of yoga classes, I ate out a ton and even paid for guitar classes. None of these things is wrong or bad. I like eating out, I love a yoga class with a teacher I respect and whom is on my level, and I definitely don’t mind giving money to struggling musicians who teach on the side.
But I was dependent on all these things. And if there is a silver lining in quarantine, for me personally, it would be understanding this. In not being able to go to a class, or eat out, I’ve been forced, like many of us, to be truly self-sufficient.
This deepening of my so-called autonomy brings me a lot of peace. And, ultimately that is what it’s all about. Peace within. Happiness is fleeting, but peace can be sustained.
With COVID-19, I am practicing yoga on my terrace everyday. I run up the hill outside my building for cardio. My jump rope came yesterday—I jump in five-minute intervals. I am teaching myself guitar (donation only), with a wonderful instructor online. My guitar practice is a daily 25-minute timed session.
Oh, and throughout my whole life, I said, “I am not domesticated.” Yet, now in quarantine, I cook steaks (yes, I eat meat, and swear by it), chicken, salmon, spinach, potatoes, you name it. My cooking repertoire keeps increasing. I write morning pages, I pray, and I meditate (I’d been doing these before, but now I’m even more focused).
And the most heartwarming of all is that I’ve gotten to connect with some of my former students through Zoom, and I am able to share the yoga practice virtually. And in that, I feel how others are also embracing this self-sufficiency, as they practice in their apartments.
Darkness is apparent in the world right now. I believe God has a hand in all of this. I would never pretend to know how or in what way that is, though.
The suffering and pain of so many in the world is palpable at every turn, and we have all been touched in some way. Community is more important than ever now. Our connection to something higher than ourselves is just as important as the relationship we have with ourselves. Perhaps more so, as without it, we cannot connect with others in a healthy manner.
We will get out of this, and my hope for myself and for everyone is that we become stronger, more self-aware and more compassionate to ourselves and others, and to see how we can become more self-sufficient and truly autonomous.
Maybe that is the true definition of “adulting.” Or maybe it’s just maturity along the path.