When I taught first grade and one of my kids was a bit sluggish in the afternoon, I'd sidle up beside him or her and gently peek into one of their ears. "Oh, my," I'd smiled. "You need to wake up that hamster in your brain and get it back on the wheel."
Naturally, the kids would all laugh, as we had a couple of feisty hamsters in a huge aquarium that took turns running on the wheel, keeping us all entertained, especially early in the morning. But after recess, our chubby pair snuggled into each other and snoozed all afternoon long...much like the kids and I longed to when the minute hand moved as slow as molasses. So after I read a little bit of Charlotte's Web or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or whatever chapter book was on deck that month, we'd do jumping jacks or a bit of yoga to wake us up for the rest of the school day.
A few years ago, my pal, Danta, and I were playing a game on his living room floor when he flopped over and pretended to fall asleep.
"You'd better wake up that hamster in your brain!" I teased. "Or I'm going to win!"
He giggled, as the long-standing hamster gag was...and still is...one of his favorites. "Today I don't have just one hamster. I have twenty-seven!"
"Get out of here!" I laughed.
"Yeah," Danta nodded. "Three of them are dancing. Six of them are playing soccer. Two of them are playing chess. Five are riding their bikes, five are sleeping, and the rest are eating Cheetos!"
Ever the teacher, I asked, "How many are eating Cheetos?"
Danta rolled his eyes to the ceiling, thinking for a moment. "Six!"
"Right!" I beamed. "That's a lot going on in your head."
"Yeah...but you know how it goes."
Boy, do I ever.
Last Friday I was at the Sharma's celebrating Satish's eleventh birthday. As usual, Danta was slow in finishing his dinner, so I nudged his shoulder. "You know, I'll bet those hamsters in your brain are hungry."
Quick as a flash, he said, "Nope...they're all on vacation."
I lifted my brows. "Really? Where'd they go?"
Giving me a sideways grin, Danta replied, "To the beach in my nose."
Naturally, I burst out laughing.
Yesterday while we sat at Satish's soccer game, he reminded me, "You know I have a two-week vacation in my brain 'cause those hamsters are still at the beach."
I laughed until I snorted, much to his delight. "Aren't you afraid you're going to blow them out the next time you blow your nose?"
He giggled. "Nah...they're not going anywhere."
I imagine soon enough Danta's hamsters will be back at work, at play, at rest, and of course, eating Cheetos (or whatever snack he's longing for at the moment).
This year my yoga students and I are practicing more meditation and mindfulness. Actually, to prepare for classes, I've been delving into my subconscious since that debilitating migraine I had last August which sparked me to write That's not me. It's only been in the past week or so that I've come to understand the seeds of what's growing in my life right now were planted back then when I was at a loss for words...or thoughts...or anything else.
Still, these days I've reverted back to old patterns and tend to over-think and over-process everything new, especially when I'm feeling vulnerable and unsure. I've lost more than a few nights' sleep in the past week or so and wish I could turn off the hamsters in my brain long enough to get some consistent rest. Maybe I need to banish them to the beach in Danta's nose for a while so I can meditate even more and dismantle their squeaky running wheel which keeps them endlessly active, yet ultimately leads to nowhere.
It's a lifelong lesson for me to learn to let things unfold naturally, yet still be present and do what I need to do along the way. I'm sending out query letters again. Waiting for the right moment to sell my house and move into a quiet, wooded area on the outskirts of the city. Dipping my feet into being socially active. Through it all, the old tapes keep playing, telling me everything will turn out like it always has and I'll end up back at square one.
The beginning of anything is when I feel the most vulnerable because I'm not quite sure of the other person, the circumstance, or myself for that matter. But honestly, this time around, it's been different. I know better...or at least know how to do better. I've chosen different agents to contact. I'm starting to sift and sort the stuff I want to keep and the stuff I need to purge before my big move. I'm making wiser choices about the people with whom I spend my time, keeping my eyes wide open instead of wearing rose-colored glasses. Believe me, it's been a real challenge to reroute those hamsters in my brain, or at least train myself to let their boundless energy go around the still point I've learned how to cultivate in my yoga practice. I'm still vulnerable, but I know it's all worth the risk of reaching out to someone or something new....and after all this time, I've come to hope that I'm worth it, too.
I imagine they'll always be some kind of chatter in the background, but to not let it drive my intentions and actions has been paramount in creating a new, healthier life. Since last summer, I've created space for everything I want. Patience is the key, but the door it unlocks is my willingness to be compassionate with myself, with others, and even with those hamsters in my brain who desperately need some time off.
So this morning, as the sun rises higher in the eastern sky, I'm heading up to my yoga room to rest my mind and tap into the peace that I know is always waiting for me both there and deep inside my soul.