Twenty years ago, when I turned thirty, I attended my first yoga class after a summer of heightened anticipation quickly led to extreme disappointment. It wasn’t entering a new decade that had me distressed. In fact, I couldn’t wait to be thirtysomething, for I knew that leaving my twenties behind would allow me to enter a period in my life when I could have credibility, find a life partner, have a child or two, and finally settle down. No, the stress that led to my actively seeking relief revolved around another person I had trusted to be forthright and faithful, but in the end, treated me with contempt and made my professional life a living hell.
All the plans we had made to teach together fell apart within six weeks and by Thanksgiving, I was contemplating either quitting my job or losing my mind. Neither happened, thanks to my willingness to meet myself on the mat class after class. Week after week. Month after month. By the end of the school year, I was getting stronger, both physically and emotionally. The following year, I went back into a self-contained classroom, but knew for certain that my time as an elementary school teacher was soon coming to an end, for I had learned that to stay stuck in anything that’s not reciprocal, that doesn’t bring a sense of purpose or balance into my life, that doesn’t allow me to reveal all of who I am will only serve to keep me stuck in patterns that hold me back.
I learned that I didn’t need to settle down.
I needed to learn how not to settle.
Through it all, my yoga instructors guided me on my way to practicing headstand. I challenged myself to attend two, then three classes per week, as my yoga mat became a comfort, a place to let go of the world for a while, a portable sanctuary I could carry with me everywhere I went. For a couple of years, I diligently did dozens of dolphins, hundreds of down dogs, a plethora of pigeons. Finally, in the spring of 1999, I finally got my legs above my pelvis and balanced against the wall, terrified I’d fall, but elated that I could finally overcome my fear of turning myself upside-down.
Of course, a few months later, I made the choice to turn my life upside-down by quitting my job with no other prospects on the horizon. Yoga became my anchor, my respite, and eventually, my source of income.
Ten years ago I was about to turn forty when a yoga student asked if I was afraid.
“Of what?” I said.
“Of still being single,” she replied. “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old and decrepit?”
Her question pushed on a serious bruise, but I made light of it, saying, “First of all, I don’t plan on getting old and decrepit. Second of all, if I’m still single when I’m older, my friends and I will take care of each other. I’d rather be single than settle for a relationship with a man I don’t really love just because he can take care of me.”
At the time, I had been working with another woman with whom I had consolidated all of the yoga business I had spent nearly six years building. Emily had been one of my students for a while and was eager to start a wellness center with little more than a willingness to paint the space and a lot of high hopes. After only a few months, Emily had given up trying to run the yoga center and was dumping it all in my lap so she could go back to her high-powered job and financial security while I was left holding the bag. Once again, I had trusted too soon, given too much, and sacrificed a lot in the process.
Still, I was resilient and tried to make a go of the space, but it soon became evident that I couldn’t afford to run both the yoga business and keep up with personal expenses. So I let it go and lived off of my savings for a year, writing A Tapestry of Truth, and teaching yoga classes on the side. It was then that I fell out of headstand more often than not. I fell down the stairs. Fell into a ravine. My whole life seemed to be falling apart, so I visited Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, hoping for new doors to open.
And I found them…sort of.
When I first arrived at Esalen, I didn’t know that to trust too soon would cost me more than a lot of money. Eventually it would cost me my pride, my integrity, sometimes my sanity. Oddly enough, when I lived in Big Sur, my body would scream every time I set foot on a yoga mat, so I took a year off and let myself heal in other ways. I gardened, I danced, I sang, I hiked, I spent a lot of time on my own. I met kindred spirits who often knew me better than I knew myself.
One morning when I was walking through the strawberry field on the way to work, I passed my friend, Chris. We chatted briefly, and I didn’t need to say much for him to know that I was hurting. He held me in his arms while we stood among the bright red berries, moistened with morning dew.
“You’ll be alright, Katie,” Chris whispered. “Give it time.”
I gave it a few more months before I realized that everything I was experiencing was a precursor to my return to Ohio, and so in November of 2008, I drove by myself across the country, unsure of what was coming next. “Dear God,” I prayed. “Help me to know where You are in this uncharted wilderness.”
Thus began a five-year journey into the darkest parts of myself which have revealed the most incredible light, and it only keeps getting brighter.
Now here I am, a few months from my fiftieth birthday. I can look back twenty years and see how very far I’ve come, how far I’ve yet to go. A lot of the things I’ve experienced since I turned thirty have repeated themselves with different people, differing circumstances, and yet the lessons remain the same. What depleted my energy in my thirties is now a red flag I recognize and avoid whenever possible. The things that caused me to stumble and fall in my forties have now become building blocks on which to stand and climb even higher. What I mightily struggled with in Big Sur, I’ve now risen above with as much grace as I can muster.
Now I’m no longer spending my precious time on things that no longer matter, or holding on to people whose behavior continually drags me into the past. Life’s too short to keep spinning my wheels, hoping others will change for the better when I know I certainly can.
So I am…right now.
These days practicing headstand is effortless, and I've been challenging myself to go even farther, working with scorpion pose for the past several months. Just last week, a day after I had finally given up on a situation that has been an albatross on my spirit, I was able to hold the pose off the wall...only for a second. But it's a start, as my body is once again revealing the freedom that can come when I learn how to let go.
When I was about to turn thirty, I thought I was entering the best decade of my life, but I was mistaken. My forties have been even better…harder…more rich and rewarding. Now, as I embark on my fifties, I’m infinitely thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and remarkably optimistic about the future, for I’ve discovered that my life only keeps getting better as time goes by.
Twenty years later…I find I’ve only just begun.
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