I was under the weather the past few days and didn’t really budge. I dragged my computer into my bed to work, and yesterday I even took a nap, which never happens. But though it was clear to me that I needed to rest and not do much in order to feel better, the lack of real movement was frustrating.
Yoga this morning helped me move back into my physical self again. And I really can’t wait to run tomorrow morning.
I’ve come to understand that there’s just about nothing more important than movement. As it turns out, your physical state it affects everything else, and quite thoroughly, too. Mental state, emotional state, how you perceive yourself, how you perceive everyone else, how you look at life. How you look at your life. In a pretty profound and astounding way.
I know, duh. We all know this. But as is the case with most important things, one day it hits you differently. You can hear about something, read about it, witness it or even do it, and you think you know it. But then one day it moves from your head to somewhere deeper, and you can’t believe you wandered through years thinking you appreciated the weight and significance of a thing, or a place, or an experience, or a person, when really, you had no idea. And then, when you do get it, it becomes vital and critical in a way you couldn’t have foreseen.
Moving through the various crises of life, I’ve realized that if I’m not in touch with my physical self, nothing else really works right. I’m not someone who’s ever had a real problem accessing her feelings, but accessing them though the physical feels easier, smoother, even softer.
There are some spiritual practices that teach the world is an illusion — a delusion — and that our bodies are gross (both meanings apply) vehicles we’re stuck with to get through this life. One of the things that drew me to the yoga studio where I practice is an embrace of the idea of being embodied. If you consider life as a gift, embodiment is the pinnacle of that gift. If you think of it that way, taking care of your physical self doesn’t seem like such a drag anymore. It’s more like an offering that you’d leave before an icon at a temple.
If that’s too highfalutin, the sensation of having moved is just so good. When I’m feeling hesitant to drag myself out of bed to go to yoga or kickboxing, or to run, I think about the fact that in an hour I will feel amazing: strong, connected, aware. More balanced and focused. More connected to myself. Because that’s what physical exertion and paying attention to your breath do. And who doesn’t want to experience those endorphins, that runner’s high?
Another huge benefit — being in the moment. When I’m moving my body, and especially if it’s a challenge, I can’t help but be right there. Even on the worst day, I can manage to be present. Running does this in an especially powerful way for me (you can read about that here).
I am grateful that the way my life is set up, I’m able to focus on physical things in the mornings (but not too early) and then do my errands, work, and other things later in the day. I schedule it in like any other appointment, because I know it’s crucial to helping me stay on track and feel — there’s really not a better word — whole.
I am not a huge fan of clothes shopping. When I set out, I usually have a very clear idea of what I want — so clear that what’s in my head doesn’t exist on any rack anywhere. When I do happen to find things I like (or facsimiles, at least), they tend to be black, gray, navy, purple (eggplant), blue (cobalt), or green (army/olive/moss). That’s pretty much it.
It’s not that I don’t like bright colors. I just feel weird in them. I bought an aqua blue fleece jacket that I sometimes wear over workout clothes (mostly black and gray), and it’s fine, and warm, but I feel — I don’t know — exposed. On display. Even so, I once ran into my neighbor on the street while I was wearing it, and she didn’t recognize me.
I can handle hints of color; I have a tennis-ball-colored tank top that I wear under other things. Sometimes I’ll buy brightly colored or even patterned (!) underclothes, or choose a jaunty hue for my pedicure. I do have a purple T-shirt with an orange Om design on it. But mostly, I keep things muted and dark.
I bought a few tops recently (black, gray, two olive green) and had a conversation with the salesladies about my penchant for avoiding color. “It’s spring! You need something bright!” they said, suggesting a shirt in deep coral. I could see how it might look good on me. But I know I would never wear coral.
I just wouldn’t.
Still, I keep trying to mix it up. On the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for a monthly service that sends you five pieces a month, based on a style and fit survey you take online. You try it all on, keep what you want, and send the rest back. If you choose not to buy anything, all you pay is a $20 “styling” fee.It’s sort of like having a personal shopper though the mail. (Which also means no trip to the mall, so that’s a plus.)
It also seemed like it could be fun. I decided to look at it like reading a book you’d never pick up but that someone you like suggests: It might be amazing, and you never would have known about it otherwise.
The first shipment arrived. I was mildly excited about what I might find in it. I had fantasies of sweet jewel-toned tops that had some interesting fabric treatment and would fit me perfectly.
There was a black-and-white-striped dress that was kind of cute, and it did not look bad on me — but even in the neutral shades, it still seemed too “loud.” A gray tunic-type top was more in my wheelhouse, except for the drapey pink-floral fabric peeking out below the hem (silky fabric, no, pink, no, floral pattern, no) — I didn’t even try that on. There was a blue anorak that just wasn’t something I’d ever wear — the color was fine, but it was too bulky. Some mint-green flats with little black bows. Cute, but so not me.
The only thing I decided to keep was a pair of jeans that not only fit nicely but were marked a size smaller than I’m used to. (It’s always nice to trick yourself into thinking you’re smaller than you are.) It was the first time I’d ever bought jeans through the mail, which seems like a triumph, given what jeans shopping is usually like.
But really, the only thing I could find to keep was — jeans? Am I so picky and set in my ways?
And if that’s the case — is that so wrong?
I’m still not sure. (At any rate, I decided to give the service another try. We’ll see what arrives next month.)
Clothes carry a strange weight. Finding things you like the looks of, trying them on, and choosing to wear them or not are decisions heavy with psychological undertone. It’s outwardly about how you want to present yourself to the world, but inwardly it’s about your thoughts, hopes, and fears about what you look like, and all the insecurity that comes with that.
You want to look good, but you also want to feel good. My days of buying and wearing things that aren’t comfortable just because I think they look good (or worse, because someone else thinks they do) are over. I’m experienced enough to know that if I feel uncomfortable in something, it will decidedly not look good.
See, the entire thing is exhausting. And I’m no nearer to understanding why I shy away from bright colors. Am I hiding behind muted tones? Or do I just not want (or need) to call attention to myself? Is there some deep-seated emotional reason? Even if there is, do I really need to examine it?
Maybe not. I’m certainly not the only one with this preference. Dark colors just look good on people. On me, for sure. Those greens I like make my eyes look amazing. I know that.
Still. After the conversation about the coral top, I went back to another store I’d browsed in earlier and bought a something in a blue brighter than I’d usually choose. I’d say it’s somewhere between cobalt and aqua. Vivid is a word you could use for it. It makes my hair look redder and my green-blue eyes look bluer.
I never said I was completely closed-minded. I’ll give it a try.
Every morning now, my older daughter, Kate, comes downstairs wearing my clothes.
My shirts and sweaters, that is. She wears a size 0 in pants, so we’re not exactly sharing those. But each morning she’s sporting something from my closet.
It all looks great on her — better than it does on me. And I suppose I should be glad she likes my taste enough to borrow my stuff. The other day she wore my 1985 Cure T-shirt to school, which made me proud. (My work here is done, etc.)
She’s not the neatest person in the world, and I’ve lately discovered piles of stuff on the floor of my closet, the result of her explorations. Robes. Dresses that have slipped off hangers. A pair of pants I never wore with the tags still on.
While I feel a bit ransacked, there’s some pleasure in it, too. Despite myself, I kind of like the careless way she pushes in there and takes what she wants, confident that I’ll be okay with it. She knows I’ll roll my eyes but then smile and give her a hug. “I wouldn’t take the stuff you really like and wear a lot, Mom,” she says. My big girl. Who’s growing up.
There are different ways of feeling ransacked, though. Yesterday was tough on me emotionally for a variety of reasons, and by the end of the afternoon I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. This happens to me sometimes — feelings I’d been keeping in check or trying to deal with in either an avoidant or strung-out way get the best of me. I feel defeated. In those moments, I’m harder on myself than I should be. I’m aware that I’m doing it, but I continue to pour salt into my own wounds. I see everything through a fish-eye lens of frustration and grief. I just want night to arrive so I can sleep and escape this unfortunate day.
It’s strange how emotions can make you feel as beat up as if you’d been in a physical fight.
I went to yoga this morning, which helped — I woke up still feeling a little off and tender, and now I’m more grounded. I also straightened up around my house; throwing stuff away and freeing up space always gets me feeling more on top of things.
And I’m fortunate to work at home, where I can make space for my emotions if I want and need to.
My teacher Emma pointed out in class today that the word emotion includes the word motion. Feelings are meant to move and evolve. I know this. Despite the trapped and miserable place I found myself yesterday, I was aware that it wasn’t permanent. Emotions do move in and out of us. It’s nice when a good or a great one arrives; you want it to stay. But when those bad ones show up, it’s all you can do just to stay upright.
Being ransacked isn’t fun, but I suppose getting shaken up can help you see things from a different perspective. (Or not. I’m being too optimistic. It just sucks.)
For the rest of the day, I intend to let my emotions move where they need to move. And just let myself be.
The plot might not be totally coherent or existent yet (more on that to come), but the fiction I’m writing has to do with desire. It’s about want and how you react to it. Do you ignore the impulse because you “shouldn’t” feel it, or do you go after it? What happens when you stop doing and feeling what you think is expected of you and instead turn yourself over to urge and sensation?
I’ve been pondering this idea quite a bit (kind of all the time in the back of my mind) and even trying to do some research about it, so the quotes below are really interesting to me right now — because they largely go against the “go for it” idea of identifying what you want and taking steps to get it.
The concept, of course, is a Buddhist one — desire is the cause of all suffering. If you think you want or need something external, that’s only going to result in pain. But the Buddhist ideal of enlightenment has always felt wrong to me. Perhaps in that perfect place of nirvana, there would be no need for desire, but guess what — we are embodied creatures existing in this life, and we need to meet it where it’s at. At least, that’s my theory.
I also just find it frustratingly passive. Maybe that comes of my own should-ness.
Far too much of my life, especially as a girl and younger woman, was spent doing what I felt I should do and not what I probably shouldn’t. Much of that was about how I was taught to behave and be and feel — how many, if not most, girls are taught to behave and be and feel.
But I have regrets — and ironically they are about the “bad” things I didn’t do, or didn’t think to do, or was afraid to do.
The story I’m trying to write stems from my feelings about that. My narrator and her life are not based wholly on me — but my feelings and experiences (or the ones I didn’t let myself have) inform hers.
So. Let’s take a look.
“When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety. If I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me and without any pain. From this I understand that what I want also wants me, is looking for me and is attracting me.” Rumi
This goes directly at the idea of desire as suffering and offers a particularly lovely-sounding alternative: If I stop wanting, all the anxiety and pain and heat of that want will drain away, and what I need will not just come to me — it will flow to me. And then it ends with the comforting idea that, after all, it turns out that “what I want also wants me.” I don’t have to look and work for it; it will find me itself.
But will it really? And what about how the word “want” changes to “need” in the middle — it’s no longer what I want that will arrive, but what I need. So is that the universe telling me it knows what’s best? It’s really that I only think I want what I want?
And what about the idea (perhaps subversive) that the furnace of stress and anxiety and pain actually has its own attraction — maybe that wanting can actually feel quite good?
I think Rumi’s ideas are meant to be comforting, but they strike me as being far too passive.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s words leave me conflicted as well, as much as I’d love to just listen to them. It’s a beautiful idea, but I have a hard time believing that all a person needs to do is decide “I want that,” and their will be done. Some work is required no matter what, right? If you want to finish a marathon, you’d better put on your running shoes and train. If you want that job, you’d better polish your resume and sell yourself in that interview. If you want to marry (or even just kiss) that beautiful man over there, you’d best go introduce yourself, or find a friend who can arrange a meeting, and get to know him.
Again. The passivity makes me uncomfortable.
“As soon as you stop wanting something, you get it.” Andy Warhol
I suppose there are several different ways to look at this one. In one way, it’s a “watched pot never boils” kind of situation, a “don’t think of a pink elephant.” If you don’t want that job, or that house, or that person, suddenly that’s what will fall in your lap. So hey, just cease to want it, and you’re good! This is advice that it’s really hard to act on or believe in. How can you just — stop?
But in another way, it’s back to Rumi. If you stop directing all your energy toward your desire (and let’s be honest, desire is exhausting), maybe the energy will change, things will smooth out, and you’ll see the path you need to take to get to what you want. Maybe it’s not about inaction, but just a different perspective.
“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.” Darryl Anka
I love this one. It has been constantly and famously misattributed to Albert Einstein. How I wish Einstein had actually said it! That would be a perfect dovetailing of science and spirituality, in my book. As it stands, we have to make do with appreciating the words of one Mr. Anka.
I totally buy into the idea of everything being energy. From a young age I had an inkling that “God” was really just the hum of life, the pull of gravity, the wind blowing in the trees. When I found out what “Om” meant, I welcomed it as an old familiar presence whose name I’d never known. (And eventually got it tattooed on my arm.)
And how fantastic — if I only match my frequency to that of what or whom I want, it’s done, and that’s my reality. And no, that’s not just an idea; it’s science. Bam.
I would love to get fully on board with this one. And I suppose it has its truths — sometimes you do end up on the exact same frequency as someone else, or everything in your life falls into place and you feel like you’re “in the flow.” It’s a beautiful thing, in love or in work, in yoga or out on the running trail. I’ve felt it.
But it’s fleeting.
Still. It’s the one I want to hold onto.
The highest compliment my daughter Sara can pay is that something is “so soft!” Whether it’s the cat, her favorite blanket, pajamas, or a shirt she covets at the mall, it just doesn’t get better than that.
We tease her about it, but you know, she’s on to something. Softness is underrated. Everything is about being harder, tougher, sharper. Everyone strives for a hard body, not a soft one.
But really, we all need more softness.
I was thinking about this today because I woke up stressed about everything I needed to accomplish. I imagined myself surging through the day like a battering ram.
But then I realized that wasn’t going to work. If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that rigidity will get you nothing but hurt. When you steel yourself, something is bound to snap.
The way to real stability is through introducing something soft. You need to be supple and flexible in order to be strong.
So I tried that as I moved through my day. I sat in front of the screen working for an hour, but then I went to yoga, which got my blood flowing again and my mind refocused. I took a break for lunch and let my mind wander while I ate instead of trying to multitask on my phone. Then I turned my favorite music up loud in the car on my way to an appointment.
And now I’m sitting here working again, but I’ve stolen away from the copy to write this.
It would seem to make sense that you should “buck up” when you need to get through something, and maybe sometimes that does work, because being rigid does protect you from feeling things. If that’s what you want. But if you remind yourself to be soft and open, at least some of the time, you have a chance at feeling something.
These are my daughters. They are 12 and 10, more young women now than little girls. They are far and away the best thing I’ve ever done.
Being their mom is a dream job. It hasn’t always been an easy one (those early years, especially the newborn and toddler phase, nearly took me down), and I know I can’t coast forever (teenager-dom looms), but right now it feels like we’re in a sweet spot.
They are interesting and interested. They are smart and beautiful and confident and adjusted, and it makes me proud to know I had something to do with that.
They like to hang out with me and listen to music — what I love as well as what they’re finding and appreciating on their own now. They like to share books and talk about them. They’re hilarious and clever. They tell me how they feel and what’s happening in their lives. They hug and kiss me at random times, just because they feel like it, and they let me do that too. The younger one, Sara, still climbs into my bed to snuggle every morning.
And even when Kate, the older one, acts like the brooding preteen she is, I don’t get that bothered. I remember it well, and she deserves her time wallowing in it too. (It’s kind of beautiful to watch.)
As aware as I am of this being a time of suspended sweetness, it’s also clear that a shift is happening — not for them, but for me.
My role is changing. They don’t need me as much as they used to. We are not in literal physical contact all day, and we truthfully once were, a decade ago. Now, they spend more time away from me than with me. They can do a lot of things for themselves (almost everything, really) that I used to have to do for them.
There is some sadness in this, yes, but it’s that bittersweet kind that actually feels really good.
I’m starting to find swaths of time and space for myself again. Not just stolen hours.
And the poise I see in the two of them feels like a thank-you from the universe: You did a good job. You are released.
I realize I’m not, not really — not by a long shot. They are only halfway through the time it takes to become an adult. Middle school, high school, and college await. And even after they are grown up, they will be mine and I will be theirs.
But there’s an easefulness in our relationship right now that I appreciate and savor. And I feel things starting to open in a new way.
I work at home, in a suburb of New York City. The people here like to think of our town as “city facing.” It’s got a train that takes you directly to Midtown, often in less time than it used to take us to get there on the subway from Brooklyn.
I don’t commute regularly by any measure, and when I do have a reason to go into the city, it’s usually at an off-hour. This week I went in two days in a row — for dinner and a concert, and for a meeting with a potential client the next day. When I came up the stairs out of Penn into the stir of Seventh Avenue, I realized it had been a while.
Not that it didn’t exhilarate me, as usual, to be part of the flood of people pouring out of the station and going in all directions, like an exploding star, once they reached the street. It still feels impossible that so many people in so little space can fairly easily get where they need to go and do what they need to do.
The thing I love about New York is that, once you know what you’re doing and how to get around, you can truly be anonymous. Even in that crush on a street corner or in a crowded subway car, you are your own small universe.
When I commuted from Brooklyn, I followed my routines like dance steps. The same route to the subway station, the same not-so-good coffee from a street vendor. The same grubby staircases and subway doors. (Even my place on the platform was a constant; I could just barely see the Statue of Liberty.) I worked for a different magazine every week. For each office, I had my subway plan — the best places to sit and stand to easily get to the door that would take me to the station exit that would get me to the corner I needed to be on, or even right inside the building I was working in. It sounds obsessive, but it didn’t feel that way, and it didn’t cause anxiety — it smoothed things out. The rhythm was such that I could get through a crowd practically without ever bumping up against anyone else.
New Yorkers know how to act in a crowd. They understand personal space and coexistence without any obligation to interact. It’s not that they’re unfriendly; they know when and how it’s appropriate to engage, and they will do it genuinely, looking you in the eye. If you need help, 10 people will be there before you even hit the ground after tripping. They also know when not to engage or get involved, to let the things and people that might seem insane to an outsider be.
I liked being able to slip into Manhattan to work and then sneak back home to Brooklyn. Maybe it speaks to the introverted part of me that I appreciate this so much — it turns out this big, glamorous, pulsing city is perfect for cave dwellers.
It’s a little different taking a commuter train in and then going back out to Jersey; you’re really leaving it behind, just sampling it for a while. It makes me a little nostalgic and homesick for Brooklyn, though I love where I live now. I like the quiet and space. I like to drive. I like seeing people I know on the streets and in the stores. The community feels good.
But it’s nice to reconnect to anonymity every once in a while.