Friday, April 29, 2016

That's why I'm here

Recently at the end of a workout, I was racking some free weights when one of the trainers passed by with a client. “I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty busy talking to other members today,” he playfully chided me.
“Yeah, I know,” I nodded.  “It seems everywhere I go someone wants to chat.” 
Heath smiled.  “That’s what you get for being so friendly.”
Heading toward the treadmills, I laughed, “I guess I’ll have to do an extra fifteen minutes as punishment for talking too much.”
Still, I must not have learned my lesson, for twenty minutes later while I was trotting away, my good friend, Badass Barb, hopped on the elliptical machine next to me.  I didn’t know she’d be coming to the gym, so of course we got into a lively conversation. 
Moments later, Heath walked past, cocking his head.  “See?  I told you…talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.”
“See?  I told you,” I replied, throwing up my hands.  “Everywhere I go there’s someone I know.”
Or at least someone who wants to engage me in conversation.
I must have a smile on my face all of the time these days because whenever I’m out and about, I walk by people who at first look somber or serious, yet within seconds they’re grinning from ear to ear.  One person even stopped me at Target to say, “It’s so nice to see someone looking up and not at their phone all the time.”
I had to chuckle because lately I’ve been taking a lot of good-humored crap from my friends for finally discovering the many merits of using an iPhone.  Sure it’s a temptation, but it’s only taken a couple of weeks to reign it in…unless I’m expecting a phone call or text. 
What a joy to Facetime with my friend, Richard, last weekend!  We email all the time, but seeing his smiling face touched my heart, hearing his gentle voice lifted my spirits, and our conversation easily picking up from where we left off the last time we saw each other almost nine years ago.
“In all this time you’ve never left me,” Richard said. 
“Nor you me,” I replied.  “We’ve always been together in spirit.”
“And we always will be,” he smiled.  “Such is the nature of deep friendship.”

Recently a colleague and I were talking about the meaning of life.  I asked him, “What’s the difference between people who ask the questions, ‘Why am I here and what does this time on Earth really mean?’ and those who coast through it, never really contemplating their true purpose?”
“Existential questions have no answers,” Tony said pointedly.  “What they have are experiences that come with them.”
“I can relate to that,” I replied.  “I would think that the more you experience, the more it humbles you.”
“Exactly.”
“I often tell my students that even though I’ve been practicing yoga for twenty years, I often feel like a beginner,” I said.  “The more I learn, the more I know that I know next to nothing.”
“Yep,” Tony sighed.  “There’s no end to the learning process.”
Thank God.
When I became a certified yoga instructor, I was given a new name, one I don’t often mention or use publically.  Like a koan, the name was a riddle, a Sanskrit word I didn’t fully understand, for I was to live my way into recognizing its meaning.  A few years later, while attending a workshop, the instructor explained the benefits of using breathwork in meditation and yoga.
“When we utilize the breath throughout the entire body, we begin to allow our spiritual energy to rise up through the spine,” he explained.  “This knowledge, or chitta, awakens and we begin to see our lives through a different lens…not the one of preconceived notions from the past, but from a place of present moment awareness.  Then, as this energy moves up the spine, it can finally blend with the peace, or ananda, of being at one with the Self.”
As the instructor looked at me, tears filled my eyes because I realized he was specifically teaching the meaning of my yoga name.  He smiled and continued, “When we work through our challenges with grace, chitta and Ananda become one thing…and we can enter into the peace that passes understanding.”
Finally, after all the years of struggle that led to my first yoga class, after all the years of study and practice and meditation, I had arrived at the gateway of my true purpose in life:  Chittananda…the way of peace.
There’s a quote on my refrigerator that says, “Peace…it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”  In the past, I needed to be alone to find peace of mind, to create balance and a place to call my own.  It was a vital hermitage, a necessary pruning of all that robbed me of my sense of self.  It took years to allow my inner chitta to rise up through the many challenges and sorrows and roadblocks on my way to the peace I feel today.  But it was all worth it.
Every.
Single.
Moment.

This year I’ve come to discover that I can truly engage the world once more and actually crave an active social life, yet still be able to hold my center, no matter what’s happening around me.  This week my yoga classes have been particularly heart-opening as I’ve had many opportunities to share the practice with young women in their early twenties.  These incredible ladies bring a vibrant sense of themselves to the mat as well as a willingness to embrace their many challenges in order to let go of that which no longer serves them.
Yesterday a friend’s daughter was attending her first class, so I told Anna, “Just do what you can…have no expectations.  It’s all about allowing yourself to be who you are.”
After the initial meditation practice, I looked over to see silent tears pouring down her face.  “I’m sorry,” Anna said, swiping them away.  “I can’t talk about it.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I smiled.  “Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel.  You don’t have to hold onto it while you’re here.”
“It’s hard for me to relax,” she admitted. 
“I totally get it,” I said, handing her a box of tissues.  “When I started taking yoga classes, I wouldn’t even close my eyes during relaxation.  It’s scary when you let your body relax and stuff comes up, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.”
“You’re safe here,” I smiled, holding Anna’s hand.  “You don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.”
As we began moving through sun and moon salutations, I was simply amazed at the grace she embodied with every pose, every movement.  Halfway through the class, Anna shared some of what she’d been feeling and the thought occurred to me, She is so in tune with her experience, she’d make an excellent yoga instructor someday.
Once the class was over, Anna hugged me.  “Thank you so much, Katie.  I feel so at peace and I love you already.”
“You’re more than welcome,” I said, holding her close.  “I’m so glad you joined us…it’s wonderful to have you here.”

 Since Easter I’ve been spending time with a host of extraordinary people, from a group of college kids to a manager at the Apple Store to friends near and far.  Eventually the conversations evolve into a place where they all essentially tell me the same thing: “It’s so nice to talk to someone with whom I can be myself.”
I want to tell them that’s probably because I’m at peace with who I am, so I can hold space for them, but that’s not really necessary.  I figure the energy is out there one way or another, which is why Heath caught me doing what I do best these days.  For it's a blessing to be kind, to share a moment of laughter, to smile at a stranger, or to have compassion for someone who needs my time and attention. 
After all, there have been countless people who’ve done the same for me.
Last winter I had an interesting conversation with a friend over dinner.  Shortly after we sat down, his teenage son called to check in with him.  I listened while Chaz gently reassured him that he’d be home in while and if he needed anything to call back.
“I’ve not talked to you about my kids, have I?” Chaz asked as he set his phone on the seat next to him.
“No…tell me about them,” I smiled. 
So he shared what it’s like to be a single father and stories about his son and daughter, little things that allowed me to see how intuitive he is about what they both need, not only right now, but in the future.  I listened as Chaz told me something about a choice his daughter had made, how he knew that her behavior was coming from a place of pain, not defiance.  Then, when he told me how he was able to help her resolve it with compassion and clarity, I saw the kind of man he truly is as well as the incredible father he’s evolving into as his children grow older.
Later on, we talked about the process of writing The Lace Makers.  Chaz listened attentively, especially when I said, “I don’t remember writing a lot of it…it just came through me, kind of like how your kids came through you.  You nurture them, you raise them, and you love them, but in the end, they’re not really yours.”
Chaz gave me a slow smile.  “You’re a healer.”
“We can all be healers,” I replied.  “Just in different forms.”
“Yeah, but you’re like a channel for God.”
“We all are,” I said.  “You’re a channel, too.  You heal people through your work, and you heal your children…and yourself…by being a good father.  You’re healing me right now by having this conversation.”
“Really?”
“Yeah…we’re all here to heal and to help others heal,” I smiled.  “That’s what it’s all about.”

The meaning of life isn’t to be found, it’s to be made.  Each one of us has a different purpose, a unique set of gifts we’ve been given to share with others. Part of the process of living is discovering, then fostering those talents and abilities to fruition.  I know for certain I'm here to impart my love of yoga and gardening and good books.  I’m here to write from the heart, allowing myself to be a channel through which inspiration can effortlessly flow.  And I’m here to love others and allow them to love me in return. 
       Through it all, now more than ever, I’m here to bring peace...in whatever form it needs to manifest.