Since my husband first proposed that we move to Europe so he could enroll in a doctoral program in France instead of the United States, I have felt the unsteady groundlessness of limbo even more acutely than ever before in my life. It’s odd because I have always made the choice to try something new, wherever in the world it might take me. Moving into an uncomfortable place is where I live most of the time, and while I know these choices have presented challenges I do not recall my psychological or physiological body ever responding quite so aggressively against change.
I went to a Roll and Release three-hour yoga workshop in Ghent this past Saturday, which proved to be very uncomfortable. It takes so little to set my entire being into panic. I rarely take the train, and I am a bit of a tech dinosaur, so just trying to figure out the time for the morning train and thinking I had to leave right away when I actually have 40 minutes threw my into a tailspin of anxiety. My husband had taken the dog on a walk with my key, and I began to spiral downward because I couldn’t find his key.
At no point in this little anxiety tornado did my rational Self step in with words of grounding or advice.
The storm continued all the way to Ghent. First, I got off at the wrong stop. Then, the train I got on was filled to bring with equally agitated people. The heat wave we have been experiencing definitely added fuel to the fire. The train staff person first began aggressively directing a group of black people out of the first class car. I had sat there, thinking how lucky I was to find a quiet spot.
We are not dogs, one of the women called back to the train person, who called back in a harsh tone, I will tell you one more time to get out of this car.
I stood up and gently worked my way around the group, whose members were beginning to heat up.
I finally found a seat in a long row where an older woman was sitting with her bag next to her on the seat. Ignoring the warnings from the back of my head, I asked if I could please sit. She directed me to the opposite row, which also had one space available, and I explained that I would like to sit in the direction the train was moving.
She huffed in the response and moved to the outer edge of the row, indicating to me to climb over everything on the floor to get around her.
I got here first, she said aggressively. It is my right to sit on the outside.
Ok, that’s fine, I thought, awkwardly making my way to the seat.
Apparently, it was not fine, however, because she continued carrying on (in French) about some injustice or other that I had sparked by daring to wish to sit down. I took out my computer to ignore her and work on the paper I needed to edit, but already my knees were shaking (the expression “knocking knees,” I learned, is quite apt).
I asked in French several times if she could please stop because it was enough already, but she carried on.
I was already inflamed myself from the heat, the stress of not knowing exactly where I was going or how I was getting there, the previous interchange in the first class car, and the fire that burns inside of me 24-7 from all kinds of toxic energy that I haven’t figured out how to dispel. Something in me just clicked and I dove headfirst into the fire.
Ignoring the advice of meditation and Buddhist teachers everywhere, I took out my phone, took a selfie, and proceeded to posted it on Facebook. This set the woman into actual madness. She began screaming that she was going to call the police. Two of the women from the group who had been harangued in first class had sat down across from us. They sat watching as the woman began flailing her arms and screaming.
I finally decided enough was enough. I had already failed my grounding practice for the day. I put my things away, stood up, and walked into the aisle.
I turned to the woman and bowed deeply with hands in a gesture of prayer. In French, I thanked her for helping me in my practice. I also suggested that she might think about studying yoga.
She looked at me like I was insane and didn’t say a word.
Then, I walked away. I found a seat in two rows down. The woman resumed her shrieking, explaining the injustices of her life to the tall black woman seated across from her.
In my new seat, I asked the people next to me if they could open the window. My knees knocking, oxygen flooding in through the narrow window, the train car proceeded to fill with flame.
My own fire did not burn down to a reasonable level until I had disembarked and moved out toward the great hall of the train station to meet my friend.
As we walked, we chatted about the events in the past week since we had returned from Ireland. It seemed that the fire had been consuming people in her life as well.
I know from experience that events that normally would not bother me cause me to lash out in rage and fury when my stress level is already dangerously high. The time leading up to our move was stressful. First we were going to move to France then Belgium, then France, then Belgium. Then, we packed up all of our belongings and shipped our dog to my parents. Our material possessions are now housed on the west and east coast of the United States. Our dog (if you can still call her that) lives in a doggie paradise with my parents where my dad hides treats for her to find in a doggie scavenger hunt nightly ritual and takes her to an enormous dog park to play.
We found a place where we could live and have a dog in June 2017. I knew when I mentioned to my dad that we would like to have Naih with us and he had responded, Of course I want you to be happy, but I’m just not sure she will be happy in Belgium, she would not be returning to us.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents offer an incredible existence for any dog; the best in food, healthcare, toys, canine and human friends, and so on. We had already joked that she would be sending us a letter that read something like, Thanks so much for the great year, but I think I am all set here.
Back to Ghent, my friend and I found a restaurant where the noodles were made by hand. I filled my belly with the best buckwheat noodles I have ever eaten and a glass of Chinese flower wine with a strawberry cut to sit neatly on the rim, and I began to feel a subtle cooling come over me.
The heat of the city kept me from cooling entirely. The studio was so hot the instructor joked that we could do Bikram instead of a restorative class.
Restorative is not actually a term I would use for the three-hour workshop, and clearly the instructor would not describe it as such either. It was slow and therapeutic. It was by no means comfortable and thus fit perfectly with my own uncomfortable path.
It is when we put ourselves in places of discomfort that we learn the most. I have heard this line from myriad yoga teachers and meditation and Buddhist practitioners. It is also the people who annoy us the most who help us in our practice toward enlightenment.
The combination of the fiery female on the train and three hours of working through all of the deep tissue in my body—from the soles of my feet to the back of my head—certainly moved me many meters forward on my path.
The workshop involved three hours of working with tennis balls, yoga blocks, and bolsters to learn massage techniques for releasing tension in the body that builds up from stress.
The reflex we have as human beings when we feel something intense [like stress] is to hold tightly, the instructor explained to everyone in the workshop. He had offered to lead the session in half English, half Flemish so that I could participate, and it was really interesting listening to both languages as he moved with ease between the two. At some point, the body will make you stop.
I had been experiencing this over the past several weeks from the stress of renting and trying to sell my house in Alaska. Much of my stress lives in my back. A week before I planned to fly to Ireland, I felt a wave of electricity move up my spine while doing something as seemingly innocuous as shaking out a pair of pants to hang onto the dry rack on the terrace.
I knew from experience that my body had responded and that it was not the shaking of the pants that caused the final straw to break. My body was simply done acting as a vessel for so much stress and tension, and it was going to make me sit still and attempt to relax until it was ready to get up and go again.
The instructor (Alexandre) went on to talk about how disease is caused by toxins building up in the tissues. Toxins and tension can build up from stress; from intense exercise; from old traumas, which the body holds onto; as a result of living in a culture where we are encouraged to be constantly doing something all the time.
When the body gets tense, we get rigid. We lose our mobility.
Tension comes from the mind and emotions, and the body will suffer as a result. This is why it is so important to remove tension and detox [the negative energy from the body].
When we are doing spiritual work, you cannot get around some confrontation, the instructor
You need to go in to get it out. Otherwise, it stays there.
Alexander explained that we would be working through the entire body, beginning with the feet. His safety talk began with the fact that this was going to be an experience that may not be pleasant for most of us but that the point was not enjoyment.
It is not designed to be liked. It is designed to work. It’s a process of learning, and evolving, and transformation.
He then shared his own message in the spirit of Jaye Martin, who has told us time and again, It always feels so good when it’s over.
In my experience, transformation is a big old mess. It’s personally painful, and in my own evolution process I seem to create an aura of chaos (think of it as a marieke tornado; a mariek-ado, if you will) that sends anyone it comes into contact with spinning and/or flying through the air.
But just as I worked through three hours of deep tissue massage and tension release, I keep at it. For me, there is no other alternative. I am uncomfortable most of the time, but I know that it would be worse to live a static life.
My poor husband takes the full brunt of my fiery transformation. I text him as I am freaking out, and more often than not, he responds with words of grounding and calm.
At the beginning of the workshop, I wrote a phrase from the instructor in my journal, took a photo, and texted it to my husband.
One of the most healing things you can do is to teach yourself to be relaxed in situations.
Amen, my husband texted back.
On my way back from the workshop, I bemoaned to him the discomfort I have been experiencing in spades.
I don’t understand how I have so much work to do. I thought I did so much when I went through divorce and Alaska. Belgium unleashed a storm.
My husband responded, You were just greedy when you decided to come into this life…you wanted to do as much work as possible in a single lifetime.
Ha! That sounds like me. I have to do everything so I don’t regret missing anything.
It’s my fault. Gahhhhhh damn over achiever. I don’t want enlightenment FOMO
No fault, just your decision.
Oui…just keep telling yourself that you are choosing this moment.
Good idea. It’s hard in the moment….when the crazy lady is yelling at me.
From experience, I also know that it is precisely in the moments when the “crazy” lady (who is likely not crazy but is crazed by the chaotic pace of life she is expected to live with grace and poise) is yelling at me that I need to pause; dig deep for all of this knowledge I have been gleaning from personal experience and study; and choose a different way to respond than in kind (violence begets violence); or simply not respond at all.
Bon courage to all of you on the path out there! Big hugs, and oceans of gratitude.