I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: August, 2015

Striving For Contentment

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Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

Wisdom

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Or Maybe I’m Just Lazy

August is here. My favorite month. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. It’s like Sunday – a pause before the busy, busy, busy-ness kicks back into high gear. September used to be my favorite month. When I was young. I loved the start of school. A new year full of hope for reinvention and ambitious achievements. My ambition is quieter now. I’m a little less jealous of other people’s success and wealth, a little less determined to achieve some kind of fame or greatness, a little more comfortable with me.

A little.

So when I woke up this morning and thought about my usual Sunday activities (Yoga! Laundry! Grocery Shopping! oh my!), I felt tired. And a little sad. Anticipating the end of August before it’s hardly begun. I’ve been operating at my usual relentless pace and along about now, August to be exact, my body and my soul say STOP! I used to get migraines – forcing me to get into bed and slow down. Or I would get depressed, crying and overwhelmed, unable to get out of bed. Now, I feel the warning before it gets too bad. Slow down. Change up the routine. Do something different.

I decided to take a Restorative yoga class. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. You sink into props, focus on your breath, and float. Savasana all the time! What could be better? I felt guilty. Negotiating and arguing with myself. What’s the matter with you, you lazy slacker? Where’s your enthusiasm for Downward Dog and multiple vinyasa’s? You’ll get fat! Come on! Get out of bed and go to yoga! NO. My body and soul said. I need rest. I need to give myself permission to rest.

When I got “into” yoga, at midlife, in my mid-forties, I latched onto Ashtanga yoga. It was the perfect practice for an aging ballet dancer Type A personality. I loved the vigor, jumping back and forth, flinging myself upside down, contorting myself into twists and binds. I adored my teacher Constanza. ADORED. Like a loving, but stern ballet teacher with a whip, she would insist “You must put your whole palm on the floor!” Lying on me to get my head to my knees or pressing my arm clasp to the floor behind me or wrapping herself around me to get my arms into the proper bind. Exhausted, I had no breath to chant the closing invocation. I would collapse, drenched in sweat, into Savasana at the end of class. Emotionally drained, I had a few sobbing savasanas. Midlife was hard. She would hug me, look me in the eye. “Sally, (which she pronounced “Solly” in her low voiced Colombian accent) you must breathe. Yoga is a breathing practice.”

With some regret, I decided Ashtanga yoga was not good for my chronic neck pain and I gave it up. But I can’t quite give up an athletic practice. However, I am now so tuned into potential neck pain, that I am more and more the person in the class who rests in child’s pose instead of striving for another vinyasa. These athletic classes are filled with ego.  Filled with many younger-than-me people ambitious to be thin and strong, to achieve a high level of skill in the pose, to win praise from the teacher. Oh yeah, been there done that. When one of the younger men in the class said to me something like: “It must be good to be your age and know when to rest.” I was flummoxed. My age? Surely I am no older than you? But, the truth of the matter is that he is easily 10-15 years younger than me. Wisdom? Enlightenment? Self-knowledge? Or maybe I’m just lazy?  Or worse, OLD.

At the same time that I discovered Ashtanga yoga, I also discovered Restorative yoga. It was a January and the studio was filled with new years’ resolutions yogi’s. The active vinyasa class I planned to take was full. My heart sank. I rolled my eyes. Oh okay, I’ll take Restorative. I reluctantly placed my mat, annoyed, waiting to be bored and unimpressed. Instead, one of the wise “old” people in the class was friendly and introduced me to my now-favorite yoga book, Meditations from the Mat. Then class began and I floated off into bliss, not boredom. Reminding me that you learn something from every yoga class, every yoga teacher, if you listen. I still hear Constanza’s voice, “Yoga is a breathing practice!” But more and more, the teacher’s voice that I listen to is my own.

Slow. Heavy. Delicious. Breathe and enjoy August.

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