Last night I went to a dinner celebrating the Chinese New Year and had the rare opportunity to watch my friend, Matt, receive a slap in the face. This was not any ordinary slap, mind you. He's been a student of Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Shaolin Yoga at Temple of the Dragon for a year, so as a way of formally accepting him into the teachings, his Sifu (teacher) slapped his face, symbolically allowing him to accept the often painful path of moving forward in his spiritual journey.
Not that there hasn't been any pain in his past twelve months of training. Matt's been dedicated to Martial Arts for decades, but since he joined Temple of the Dragon, I've seen an incredible transformation in him. What a joy to be invited to witness his ceremony, and to be delighted the he also received the Hardest Working Student of 2015 Award as well. But that's no surprise to me, for where our work ethic is concerned, Matt and I are cut from the same cloth.
Perhaps I should have taken up Sifu Aaron Arden's playful offer to slap me, too, as the past twelve months have been filled with opportunities to test my strength, endurance, and fortitude in the face of challenging myself to move forward in all areas of my life. Then again, in the process I've been metaphorically slapped in the face quite a bit (not by someone who is honoring and indoctrinating me in the process), and the sting has lingered a lot longer than I would have liked. So once the ceremony had ended, I spoke with Aaron about joining his meditation classes, for as I told him, "I don't need more movement. I need more stillness."
He smiled, inviting me to join his Wednesday night group anytime, and I look forward to the blessing of being in the company of open-hearted people who know that the conscious road to evolution is often taxing, yet we can find a still point of peace in the midst of the challenges.
It was a bittersweet thing to join Matt for the evening this Valentine's Day weekend. Usually I don't get bumped and bruised by being around couples or watching them enjoy a nice evening out. Those days were long gone a decade ago, but last night I found myself in an uncommonly vulnerable place while we walked through the Tea Tree restaurant on the way to the banquet room. I was proud to support my dear friend. Had put on my best dress and some make-up. I truly enjoyed meeting his classmates and Sifu. But in the back of my mind, memories of the past year kept bubbling over and it was difficult to hold my center while thinking of all the times people showed me what they thought I was worth both professionally and personally.
Over dinner Matt and I were talking about how it was pretty simple to discipline ourselves to show up and do the work necessary on the yoga mat or while sparring with a classmate or during seated meditation.
"It's when other people are involved that I have problems," I admitted. "Because their values and motives are often different from mine."
"Yeah," Matt nodded. "I know exactly what you mean."
This year in particular has seen a downward shift in many facets of my life. Book sales are slow. Because of the boom in yoga studios around town, my business is holding steady, but not growing. And one venue told me that they will be replacing me with a newly-certified yoga instructor who will work for free, so I suppose my years of training and experience aren't worth all that much to them.
Lately, when I look to the outside world for validation and confirmation of my life's purpose, I'm sorely disappointed. Thank God I've learned to look within at moments like last night when I needed to leave the room for a moment and take care of myself. In the past, I'd stuff my feelings, put on a brave face, and smile to cover up my hurt. Now I've discovered that to let myself have a moment to release the pressure will eventually allow more healing. So last night, I stood in a bathroom stall crying silent tears until I knew I was done. Until I knew I could go back to the dinner and be present for my friend without letting my own stuff bleed into his happy occasion.
After wiping my eyes, I came out to wash my hands and there stood two little girls I immediately recognized. "Hi, Lauren and Audrey," I said gently. "Do you remember me?"
As their lovely blue eyes found mine, they looked uncertain.
"I was your teacher when you were in preschool," I said, making a silly face at Audrey (the very same one she and I passed back and forth when she was three).
Recognizing me, her face burst open with light. "Oh, yeah! Hi, Yoga Katie!"
The girls' mother and I chatted for a bit, then we all walked back to their table together. How wonderful to reconnect with two little ones I've known since they were teeny tiny, Audrey since she was an infant. Now they're in grade school and growing up fast, but like all of my former students who I run into now and again, when I look into their eyes, I realize I know them by heart.
What a gift to serendipitously see Lauren and Audrey during a moment of grief, two sweet girls who allowed me to soak in all of the love and joy we shared when I was their teacher. It was a balm to my spirit to remember how much time we had spent learning and growing and laughing together. As I walked back to the banquet room, surrounded by couples out for a Valentine's dinner, I was soothed by the realization that, while I may not have a special someone in my life right now, there are infinite ways to experience love this holiday weekend.
So here's to all of my little Valentines -- Satish and Danta, Kashti and Zakira, the little one who often visits her Granny across the street, Matt and his wife, Cheri, my pets and my friends and my Aunt Karen who loves me more as every year goes by. As I move into meditation class in the weeks ahead to further my own spiritual journey, I'll be sending all of them peace and light in gratitude for reflecting back to me how very much I'm treasured.
I hope they know how much I love them, too...not only today...but always.