To the beat of my heart

Usually, at the start of a new year, I like to sit down with a cup of tea, some thoughtful books, and a journal and set intentions. It’s a nice tradition, even if the contents of the journaling are quickly lost in the sea of busy days.

I have yet to lift a pen or read anything longer than a newspaper article in 2017.

Such frequent (and virulent!) cold viruses have knocked our little family (and so many friends, clients and extended family) that much has been cancelled. Both the obligatory things (work, daycare, meetings) and the precious plans that allow us to re-energize with people we love have gone out the window.

I’ve slept as much all month so far as I used to in a week. At least, if we’re talking good, restorative sleep. It’s no longer in the cards to take a dose of Nyquil and check out for a while when a cold sets in – no, now there’s a babe who needs reassurance that she will, one day, be able to breathe through her super-cute little nose again.

I wouldn’t trade any of it. I still can’t believe how much gratitude wells up when I see Bea’s face every morning, and when I catch her dad singing a funny song to her, off tune, even with a hoarse voice. But I can’t think my way out of this hard place, no matter how I try. I can’t self-care and read and rest my way out right now. It’s something I knew was coming, and invited even (well, maybe not the endless viruses – but I’ve been around and part of families long enough to know that’s part of the deal some seasons).

So, what’s an OT yogi to do when none of the tried-and-true strategies work? When the fatigue is so intense that the only brain cells available to string words together or be efficient are used (and rightly so) on behalf of clients? When the reading/relaxation time after the baby goes to bed turns into five minutes to brush teeth before my eyes close?

For weeks now, I’ve had a sense of a strong, beating heart hovering at the edges of my bleariness. When my mind is cycling through half-cooked thoughts (miserable about lack of sleep, or grieving lost time with friends) in the middle of the night, I have a hard time stopping it. I can’t think a coherent counter-thought or wake up enough to snap out of it. So, touching into the forgiveness and lovingkindness meditations I did regularly once upon a time, I’ve been releasing what I can to my heart space.

If you’re not familiar with lovingkindness meditation (metta), it’s a wonderful tool and, really, a prayer. Starting with someone who is easy to love, you recite a series of phrases – every teacher’s is a bit different, and many people end up with their own version. This is mine, at the moment:

May you be safe and protected

May you be healthy and strong

May you be filled with lovingkindness

May you feel peace and joy

With repetition, focusing on the easily-loved one (if all else fails, go for a pet), a warmth develops. So readily, sometimes, it’s astonishing (though don’t give up if it’s slow to kindle – it’s there). Once it’s burning brightly, that love in your center, it’s spread out to yourself (sometimes the hardest step), as well as to people you love, people you know, and eventually to all beings. Soon, the whole world is resting in that deep, rich, effortless heart space.

It’s the only option for me right now. Sometimes I can’t even get through the words, so I just pick a few and repeat – or even just shift my attention to my heart, feeling its beats. I’m both grateful for my current extreme lack of thinking capacity and overwhelmed by it, but leaning more and more toward gratitude. I’m usually a thinker. I love words, processing, puzzling, making things fit.

But some things are, as they say, “unworkable.” Things that have no solution. The situations (health concerns, loss of loved ones, challenging phases of life) that simply need to be, and can’t be managed. Our minds like to stew on them, and only extreme circumstances shut that stewing down. What we really need is that beating, pulsing, universal (and yet, so personal and intimate) heart to beat out each breath for us, propel us forward one step at a time.

I’ve dug a bit into Christian mystic Sacred Heart traditions, too (again, one short article at a time). They’re not unlike the meditation I shared above, save some differences in wording. The same core intention is there, tied to figures (Jesus, Mary) who represent all things good, healing, and caring.

Today, as most of my female friends and relatives take to the streets in defense of human rights and forward social movement, participating in marches across the country, I sit in my sweatpants at the computer, tea in hand, taking regular breaks from typing to blow my nose.

I can’t tell you what it would mean to me to be with any one of those women, both for the companionship and for the sense of solidarity in a time of turmoil. It’s not in the cards. It’s another exercise in letting go, and in finding gratitude. I’m more proud of the fierce and brave and deeply peace-loving women in my world than I can express. Perhaps I’ll rest my mind there, in that hope, in that fierce and loving place in my own heart.

Richard Rohr is a modern Christian mystic teacher who continually pops up in my life lately (I do love how that happens – teachers move in and out so naturally when we have an eye open). He writes:

Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space. Dualistic commentaries are lodged in your head; but in your heart, you can surround this negative thought with silence. There it is surrounded with blood, which will often feel warm like coals. In this place, it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic. You are in a place that does not create or feed on contraries but is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love. Now the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart have been transferred to you. They are pointing for you to join them there. The “sacred heart” is then your heart too.

Well. No matter the context, surely I can do that. I can take the painful thought, the worry, the joy, the confusion, the grief, and with an exhale of release, send it into that deep, pulsing, rejuvenating, unconditional space of love at my heart. The space that connects effortlessly with yours, with the rhythms of nature, and with infinite Love.

May all beings be safe and protected, healthy and strong, filled with lovingkindness. May all (tired, confused, joyful, complex, hopeful, fearful, determined) beings feel joy and peace, above all else. May all protests be peaceful, all hearts beat as one.

Dear yogis: It remains one of the greatest joys in my life to share yoga with you, regardless of how much that cute baby and life in general keeps me on my toes. Often, the sessions we share are as good for me as I hope they are for you – restorative, invigorating, and strengthening. What a gift. Send me a note if you’re toying with the idea of personal yoga sessions, would like to talk through a possible course or speaking engagement, or otherwise have an interest in Gray Bird services. You keep me motivated, I love writing for and doing yoga with you, and I’m excited to watch the expansion and joy that 2017 holds for Gray Bird continue to unfold!