Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

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Recently, I’ve returned to yoga, taking a few classes at two local studios after a hiatus of more than two years. I am definitely what you’d call a beginner yogi: I’m familiar with most of the basic poses, but in every class I encounter new terms, new twists (literal and figurative), and new ways of putting the poses together. My body is not naturally particularly flexible, and I am out of practice, so I have to be patient with myself. More specifically, I have to overcome the twin obsessions of what Natalie Goldberg calls my “monkey mind”: perfectionism and the need for validation.

My first yoga teacher, McKay, used to tell us, “There is no judgment or competition in yoga.” That statement always felt like an exhale to me, a huge relief. I repeat it to myself every time I’m on the yoga mat. The lack of competition is one of my favorite things about yoga, one of the reasons I look forward to yoga classes, rather than dreading them the way I used to dread those physical fitness tests in elementary school.

Even with McKay’s words in my head, I still find myself glancing around at the other students, or at the teacher. I’m not judging their practice, usually; I’m judging my own. Are my toes pointed in the right direction? Are my legs up high enough? Do I look stupid with my hair falling down around my face? Am I sweating more than anyone else? (The answer is usually yes.) And the question underneath all those: Am I doing it right?

Because I’m relatively new to yoga, I am only really confident of a few poses: plank, cat/cow, downward facing dog. When I twist myself into triangle or pigeon or some other more intense pose, I always automatically wonder: is this right? Sometimes the wondering continues: should I bend this way, stretch that way, lean forward or back, breathe in or out? Sometimes I’m able to quiet the inner chatter and hold the pose, simply be there, breathe through the discomfort. At other times, I glance toward the front of the room, wanting the instructor to give me a gold star, to say, Yes. You’re doing it right.

As you know if you have practiced yoga, being right isn’t the point. The practice, the very act of showing up and doing the poses, is the point. Aiming for the right form is good, of course; it stretches the muscles properly and helps prevent injury. But perfection is not the goal. The goal is to be present, to exercise your body, to calm your spirit. The goal is to do, and to be.

I run into these twin obsessions at other places in my life, most particularly in my writing. I have always been good at fulfilling assignments, and I’ve earned plenty of gold stars for doing so over the years. But now that I’m not in school anymore, now that I write mostly for myself, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to tell me if I’m doing it right. I can make massive mistakes, spend hours working on sentences I’ll eventually throw away. Without a built-in system for validation, the possibilities are sometimes frighteningly endless.

But in yoga, as in writing, that lack of judgment, competition and validation provides a quiet freedom, the chance to experiment and find out how a pose or a technique works for me. There is a place in both arenas for honing and refining my craft. But for now, what I need is to turn off the judgmental voice in my head, lean into the yoga pose (or into the blank page), and practice. I need to show up, so I can do, and be – without relying on anyone else to tell me I’m doing it right (or wrong).

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Last week marked my six-month anniversary of being unemployed. Happily, I got a job offer on Monday morning – which also happened to be my sister’s birthday. (Her reaction, when I called to tell her the news: “Happy birthday to me! You got a job!”)

However, the offer was contingent on a successful check of my references, so I waited in limbo for four days while the good folks in HR did what they had to do. And that was almost worse than not getting the offer at all – so paranoid was I that they’d find some small reason to revoke it.

My week of limbo/liberty was blessedly free of hitting the job boards, but full of the other activities which have filled my last six months: a freelance project or two; laundry and dishes; making soup for lunch; walking to the post office and the branch library; playing around on Twitter and blogs; sipping tea at the dining-room table while journaling or writing. And feeling guilty.

No, I don’t feel guilty about doing freelance work, tending my house or even taking a break for a cup of tea. I love my quiet mornings here at the dining-room table, sunshine coming in the windows, my current bouquet (this week it’s daffodils) blooming away. I love being able to stir up a pot of soup or nip down to the branch library for a new novel. And I am so glad I haven’t had to brave the cold during our string of snowstorms (though I am now joining the commuting hordes at my local T station).

Rather, I feel guilty about all the things I haven’t done while searching for a job. Couldn’t I have applied to more jobs, gone to more networking events, worked harder to score more interviews? Should I have taken a part-time job somewhere to make money, or applied for plain old temp work instead of specialized writing temp work, or allowed myself fewer excursions to downtown Boston? I definitely should have spent less time browsing the Web, clicking links and reading my favorite blogs. And couldn’t I, in six months, have completed a full draft of that travel memoir I’m always talking about writing?

I’ve felt guilty about all of the above, and also about spending my days at home, warm and cozy and wearing jeans, while my sweet husband spends his days driving around the South Shore of Boston, seeing clients for therapy, often not getting home until seven or eight o’clock. I’ve felt guilty about not doing more to help him provide for the two of us. I’ve wondered if I were going about this job search the “right” way, if there is a right way. And I’ve felt especially guilty because I’ve actually enjoyed my unemployment.

I didn’t enjoy the financial strain, of course – which has grown worse as we’ve needed to pay for heating oil and slightly higher bills in the winter. Nor did I enjoy the loneliness, the feelings of cabin fever and isolation when the weather grew frigid and I began spending nearly all of my days inside. When the weather was nicer, I could find more excuses to spend afternoons downtown, poking around the shelves at the Brattle or browsing the clothes racks at Second Time Around, or sitting on Boston Common, book and camera and journal in hand. But since winter hit for real, it’s been pretty lonesome around here, despite my love of solitude and the connections available online.

But I have enjoyed some parts of my time off. For one thing, I didn’t have to rush right into an office when we moved here in August; I had time to unpack, to hang pictures, to arrange our apartment and explore our neighborhood. I’ve spent happy hours browsing at the libraries in Quincy and many sun-soaked afternoons on Boston Common. I’ve gotten to know the heart of Boston, which for me lies in the two green spaces in its center, the bustling Beacon Hill area just north of them, and the narrow streets east of the Common filled with some of my favorite Boston spots.

For another, I’ve had time to write – which I craved in Abilene, particularly when my job at ACU grew crazy and deadline-filled. I’ve kept writing for ACU, written dozens of articles for Halogen, blogged more regularly than perhaps ever before, and written some secret things I hope I’ll get to share with you one day. I’ve had lots of time to sit at this table, daydreaming, dressed comfortably and never lacking in sleep or good food or time to do whatever I pleased. Time like this is a gift to a writer, and I’ve tried to appreciate it and use it well, instead of squandering it in useless pursuits or spoiling it by obsessing about money. (Not, I might add, always successfully.)

But most of all I’ve enjoyed the freedom of this time – the complete liberty to structure my days however I want, even if that has included a little too much sleeping in and a bit too much “wasted” time. I’ve loved being in control of the hours of my days, although I’ve spent the vast majority of those hours alone. I’ve hardly had anywhere to be at a certain time for months, except church and a few outings with friends. It’s reminded me so much of my life in Oxford, where my only obligations were classes, church, working for ACU-Oxford and volunteering at Oxfam. I’ve had lots of time – however heavy it’s hung on my hands sometimes – to just be.

Starting this week, all that will change. I’ll get up with my alarm clock, to shower and dress and head downtown to Emerson College, where I’ll spend my days writing and organizing content for the college’s website. I will have co-workers, an office, a lunch break, a commute, and many fewer hours to myself. (And much more money in the bank than I’ve had.) I expect to enjoy most of these things, or learn to adapt to them – though I know there’ll be an adjustment period. Mostly, I’m thrilled to have found a job I think I’ll love, at a place I already admire. (And when the weather turns warm, I can go eat my lunches on Boston Common – happy thought!)

Have any of you ever struggled with guilt during unemployment/a career break/graduate school/another instance of downtime in your life? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear your stories.

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