Thursday, September 8, 2016

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

September is National Yoga Month.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I went through the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Program—-- although not a day goes by without me feeling the effects of this experience on my life.

 I realize now. It wasn’t only the yoga program itself that felt transformative, it was larger than that.

As a result of tackling something that felt profoundly scary and new to me—and completing it, I had ventured outside my fixed idea about myself.

Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun and author, says we all scramble for security and we do this by clinging hard to fixed views on everything--- especially ourselves--because to let go brings discomfort.

Letting go of our cemented roles, our intense emotions about situations, and our unconscious story line means dealing with change and uncertainty. Even when we think we want change in our lives---it’s still stressful letting go of our comforting illusion that everything is under our control and happily static.

The truth is life is fluid and always changing.
We can face this honestly and learn how to let go or we can be in denial and resist it. As the Buddhists say, it's not life's cyclical changes that causes us pain, it's our resistance to it. When we cling to our youth, to our kids, to the way things 'used to be' that's what causes our suffering.

It's an interesting thought isn't it?

Years ago when I used to interview potential eating disorder patients, I would actively look for entrances and exits that had recently happened in their lives.

This was how I got a picture of their current stress level.

Births and deaths, marriage, separation, divorce, job loss or job change, relocation, leaving home for the first time. Becoming an empty nester.

These are all transitions that create a feeling of groundlessness in our lives; instead of that comfy, safe feeling we like, it feels like things are shifting underneath our feet and we feel vulnerable. This instability is stressful, whether the change is positive or negative, and I think it’s important to recognize this.

This is a way we can find compassion for ourselves when life feels overwhelming and we're longing for stability.

Chodron has a name for our dilemma; she calls this the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

As human beings, we’re all in the same boat. We crave stability in a world that is constantly changing. And some of us are better than others at adapting and tolerating newness in our lives, although generally the more uncomfortable we are with change, the more we will latch on to 'sameness.'

The more we need to feel in control.

So if you’re like me—a person who likes to feel in control and knowledgeable, signing up for a teacher training program as a beginner yogi with a fifty-six year old body and a bad back, well, are you getting the full picture here?

It’s a prescription for unpredictability and stress.

I still remember that first day sitting on the floor of the mirrored yoga studio. I had just recovered from a back sprain and I was gazing around the circle at my fellow students wondering what the heck I had got myself into---I was clearly the oldest person in the class---and as I listened to the introductions, I began to feel more out of place than ever.

 Little did I know how much my body--and my mind-- would change as a result of this decision. 

So today --in honor of this sentimental anniversary-I thought I would share a few things I learned from jumping head first into a commitment that made me deal with these three issues:

1.  On not being ready

      (“How can I do this?...It feels too soon”)

What I learned:

When I think of ‘readiness,’ I remember a conversation that happened when I was a graduate student. I remember it because it taught me a truth about life that I didn’t yet understand. I was always the good little student in school who did things in order. At that point I needed pieces of paper—diplomas, professional titles—to make me feel secure and confident. But one of the first tasks I had after I landed my dream job on an Eating Disorder Unit at a LA hospital, was to give a welcome speech and tour to a reception of prominent clinicians from around the area.

As a graduate student, I was terrified. These were all seasoned professionals in the field I aspired to---and I felt like an utter imposter. I was aware of being the only one in the room without a Master’s degree and this made me feel totally inadequate. The medical director—a gifted psychoanalyst- took me to lunch and listened to my fears explode all over our food, and then he quietly smiled and told me I’d be fine.

“Just pretend as if,” he instructed.

What? I was flabbergasted. But that’s not how I feel inside, I thought.

Wasn’t this being fake?

(Yes, I was that naïve and sincere)

It wasn’t until years later that I understood his advice; I now know there are times when you simply don’t feel ready for what you need to do. And so you do your best. I also know that too much trepidation can lead to “analysis-paralysis” and missed opportunities.

Is there some dream or goal you’re thinking about doing? My advice is that once you’ve done your proper homework, you might have to accept that emotionally you may never feel ‘perfectly’ ready. But there are times when the act of choosing Motion changes Emotion.

2. On being too intimidated

      (“Oh no—I can’t do this—it’s totally outside my comfort level”)

This is what I’ve learned:

I am not a seeker of scary experiences. Let me be clear about that. 

There’s no one that likes a comfy routine more than me. But one thing I’ve learned from relocating cites and selling our family home (2 years ago) in my fifties, is that big changes inject your life with a newfound energy. All of sudden you’re looking around with a pair of new eyes. You find yourself growing in unexpected ways simply because you’re outside your comfort zone and everything feels terribly new.
Suddenly anything seems possible.

But no, you don't have to move and be totally uprooted to have a similar feeling. I've found that change in baby steps is manageable.

Here’s one way to feel good about yourself. Introduce something new and positive to your life, but make it small. Just do it every day for a set period of time. Even a week is good. And finish it. 

The next thing you know, you’re walking around with a feeling of accomplishment about this one positive thing you’ve done. And suddenly, you’re seeing yourself differently and who knows what's next?

It's this openness to new experiences that keeps us growing.

3. On being too old

    (“This is a younger person’s world, I’m too old to do this”)

This is what I learned:

When I was sitting in that class on the first day of training I was excruciatingly aware of my age.  Although some of it is simple reality.

When I walk into a hot yoga class on any given day, I tend to be surrounded by mostly younger women. Some men too. Looking back now, I realize so much of my struggle during my teacher training period was clearly related to being the oldest person in the room--and how it made me feel. This was new to me. Adding to my self-consciousness was my lack of yoga experience and my recent injury which left me with a sore back and a cautiousness about certain poses.

Do you want to feel instantly old? Try walking around with bad back.
Oh--and then be totally clueless about the topic.

Pema Chodron writes about the way we erect labels and credentials around our self-image to feel secure:  it's like our armor. It helps us put solid ground under our feet in an ever shifting world. And when things start to fall apart, she tells us to look around. It’s usually when our fixed idea of “This is Me” is being challenged.

 I felt this happen to me in each class as I fumbled with memorizing and forgetting material that was foreign to me; suddenly I became aware of how my self-worth was tied up in my image of being good at something. Of feeling educated and knowledgeable. Here I was, a total beginner at something. And it didn't feel good.

So I learned a little more about being humbled.

But here’s something else I took away from the experience.

I recently turned 57 years old and I’m proud of it.
I feel blessed to have a strong body and a curious mind. Even thought I'm still reading Chodron's book, I know that this idea of living beautifully with uncertainty is not a pretty Pinterest worthy image. In fact it’s downright messy and uncomfortable and even painful at times.
It means dealing with loss. It means we have to accept that nothing stays the same which can be scary, and it means we must learn how to let go gracefully when it’s time.

Whether it’s our image of our self as a young, wrinkle-free woman that we need to adjust, or an image of our self with a certain job title, or whether it's stepping away from our adult kid and letting them struggle.

I'm still learning about letting go. But I really believe we get closer to discovering the essence of our inner beauty when we’re willing to shed our armor. 

What do you think?

Can you relate to this post?



Susan said...

Yes, and thank you!

Blondie's Journal said...

My dear had me at the first few paragraphs (I then had to stop because I wanted to absorb what you had written thus far without my surging identification of what I read first). My gosh...I'm so into that realm of wanting to take steps and the uncertainty is ruining the experiences I could be having at my age (same as yours). I so appreciate that you have opened yourself up to share your fears and confusion in taking this new step in your life with teaching yoga. I so admire you.

I'll be back and I may ask if I could possibly share a link to your post. I am determined to branch out in different directions with my blog and I think this is so very relevant and so well nailed so much. :D


Ivy, Phyllis and Me! said...

Good Afternoon Leslie, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. One of the things I promised myself, was that I would not become old before my time, I want my age of 64 years to be a number and not something which defines me.
I have not allowed myself to be rooted in the past instead I have tried to be open to what life offers. I am not saying it has been easy, life is not easy, but if we can 'grab the bull by the horns' and enjoy what life has to offer by accepting change, we will not live our later years worried about the changes life inevitably brings.
I have friends who are rooted in the past, because as you say, they feel secure, but I feel they are missing out on so much.
Thank you again for a wonderful post.
Best Wishes to you.

Karen said...

Always thought provoking and in my case, timely. I recently tackled something I knew I needed to do but kept pushing it to the end of the list. It was a personal thing I felt I needed to accomplish. I managed the first phase and was surprised and delighted with the way it made me feel about myself. Nothing I needed to explain to anyone, just a bit of a surprise that I actually accomplished this. So your post put into words what that can feel like and it is the truth! :-)

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...


I absolutely can relate to this post! Each day I step into my hot yoga class I am the oldest person there, often times the people there with me are so incredibly fit they look like they stepped off the cover of Men's Health or Womens' Fittness and for about 5 minutes I feel a little insecure. But then as I move on my mat and push myself further than I did the day before and become stronger and stronger I don't give them another thought.

Life is a challenge everyday. Somedays we are the old pros and other days we are the newbies. Somedays we learn something new and somedays we teach. In my life I strive, especially as I age to learn something new everyday, a word, a fact, a recipe, whatever.

I have also learned that as we age we change and that for the most part the small little things in life that used to bother us don't any more. We learn, hopefully, to focus our time on the important things in life, family, friends, love, life, our passions and let go of things, literally let go of the "things" that clutter your life.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, wisdom and experiences! It is always a joy to come visit your thought provoking posts. You make me sit and ponder things and I love it!

Have a fabulous weekend Leslie.

Lou said...

Can I relate? Hell yes!! Felt the same emotions starting my Masters last year. What I notice though is that even though I did my first year, I took the summer off and now all the same feelings of worry are returning!! How funny. I see that this activity of trying never ends, we must keep repeating it. I guess the good thing is that it gets easier...Lou x

Jeanne Henriques said...

Dear Leslie...thank you for this post, it struck a chord with me. I am not quite there but feel on the cusp of something new. A little intangible now but I can feel the threads of an idea tugging at me. As for age, I had to laugh today when I realised with 59 just two days a way I have hardly blinked an eye over it. Not so when I turned 40 and 50. I started 3 years early on each occasion bemoaning the passing of time. Today, it's just another day, I embrace this time in my's just so special to be alive! Much love from New England...Jeanne xx

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Oh, my... Yes, I can definitely relate. So many "news" in my life over the past several years—and more on the cusp. Lots of being out of my comfort zone, sometimes wishing for its safety net, but NEVER willing to give up the gift of learning to become a "new and improved" version of Me. This is a BIG anniversary for you, Leslie, and I hope I can tackle some of my "still to be addressed" challenges with as much commitment and grace as you have yours. Great post!

Carla from The River said...

Great post Leslie, I will be honest with you, your goal and sharing your fear and overcoming it, is exactly why I pressed on with my flower farm. Thank you for your heart to heart posts. I appreciate them so much.
Love, Carla

La Contessa said...

WE are the SAME AGE!!!!!!
IF THAT IS YOU and I believe it is in the YOGA position between those yet to be BOOKCASES you are a TINY THING!
I am a GIANT at 5 foot 11 inches........
YES< I can relate and I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!
Especially for your CARPENTRY SKILLS and the YOGA CLASS...........
IT IS HARD BEING WHERE WE ARE.........and there is NO CLASS to tell us how TO DO IT!
BUT WE BETTER MAKE the BEST OF IT while we are STILL HERE!!!!!!!!

Art and Sand said...

Yes, I can relate and I have "faked" it many times.

One particular event always sticks in my mind. My first public school teaching job was in middle school and the kids scared the bajeezies out of me. I was had 2 children, was taking a continuing ed class a couple of nights a week and teaching history for the first time. I would diligently read at night to keep ahead of the kids. One day the smartest kid in the class (much smarter than me) asked a question and I answered him. He then blurted out, "how do you know so much stuff?" In my mind I answered, "I read about it last night!"

I am 10 years older than you and it is just in the last few years that I have "fallen apart". I had to give up tennis due to arthritis so a couple of months ago, I started Zumba. I know I am the oldest person in the class and that I look ridiculous, but I love it.

Thanks for sharing with SYC.

Bettye said...

That was so wonderful! Thank you for sharing these thoughts, which were exactly what I needed right now. I want to share them with my friend who is going through some difficult things. I know it will resonate.

Summer said...

Loved reading this! I am glad you are proud of your age ♥ Hugs♥

Unknown said...

Perfect timing on this post, Leslie. I'm so glad that I caught this today.I remember that life-changing move of yours 2 years ago and your yoga course. Both brave adventures and I have appreciated your honesty at each stage. As you know, I just retired (age 55 in July) and am making the bold leap to spend my time working with my passions for this new chapter. I'm blogging, expanding my online curated collections boutique and launching my travel business. I LOVE it! It's energizing to have the time to do what I love. On the other hand, there are moments where I feel anxious, did I retire too early? What if I can't make my new business ventures a success? I battle some of these same feelings you described here. All that said, I'm still pushing forward, embracing the occasional doubts and doing it anyway.
Love this post!
xx, Heather

michele said...

look at you reflect on so many important lessons learned. you have transitioned beautifully, leslie. so much richness you have touched upon. the groundlessness we feel as emptynesters for example. so true for me still as i find i so often seek to fill up that space which has been left instead of waiting in the pain of it and allowing it to teach me. i have learned the art of just being yet the culture around me says i should be doing so much more. less really is more and i'm not sure we can hear that enough. i finished my spiritual formation certificate program, am now a wisdom school student and am applying for the next contemplative program...thanks for cheering on vulnerability since so often it comes with a steep cost. xox

Lori said...

Wow ~ just wow. I can totally relate to this post and love this:
In fact it’s downright messy and uncomfortable and even painful at times.
It means dealing with loss. It means we have to accept that nothing stays the same which can be scary, and it means we must learn how to let go gracefully when it’s time.

Maybe it is losing Mom so suddenly this summer ~ maybe it's knowing that I have to make some changes in my life ~ I love that you always make me think. I sit after reading your posts and wish that I could walk next door with my coffee cup and sit at your table and just talk. You motivate me to be better and do better. Thank you for that xoxo

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