Lessons in Comfort Orientation from Pema Chödrön, Zosia Mamet and Patanjali
At the end of June, I put my entire life in a U-Haul truck and drove it out of Brooklyn. Circumstances and timing were in alignment, and after almost ten years of living in my beloved NYC, rebooting made sense.
There was no plan. The only thing I knew for certain was that this self-imposed career break came with a neighboring expiration date that would emerge organically (and be relatively painless), or be birthed out of necessity. Either way, time off was imperative.
Choosing to roll the dice and put myself in a position that could wind up being potentially unpleasant was out of character for someone so practical, and as you might imagine, reactions to the decision ran the gamut. Thanks to a generous and supportive friend close to home, I had a place to lay my head while sorting out the noise.
In my new surroundings, pursuing a relaxing, limber schedule instead of actively looking for a new full-time job summoned jolts of fear almost immediately. Morning jogs, actually spending time with family, teaching / taking yoga, having intimate conversations, traveling, and roaming in nature were interrupted by misgiving story-lines in my head. What if I don't figure out a way to support myself after this break?
The Universe doesn't care if you're in the midst of a Xennial life renovation or if you have 90% of your belongings boxed up in storage— things keep moving forward and stuff comes up. Opportunities slip from our grasp, hearts and smart phones break, friends hurt our feelings, and people fly off the handle in line buying kale. With several personal and professional unknowns looming, my yoga practice quickly became a day-to-day anchor in uncharted territory. Reading helped too.
Writings from American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön had admittedly influenced this temporary lifestyle change in the first place, and I was hopeful that intentionally sabotaging my own coziness would allow my concept of "normal" to transform for the better. And it did. Little things that would generally summon internal aggravation — running out of hot water in the shower, having little-to-no spending money, cleaning up after other people — started becoming much less icky to endure. Those moments accumulated, and like Rinpoche reaching to get his glass, the discomfort got to a point where it was almost welcomed.
There is no guess what happened next portion of this blog post, though. It's October and I'm still here. Floating in the in-between.
Maybe I'll return to the digital media / broadcast space I know and love, or maybe sipping-in a few extra weeks of unplugging is more productive to explore a potential career pivot. In the interim, I notice that even though I teach twice a week and work a handful of odd jobs, pockets of rest and leisure leave me feeling deep-seated lethargy-shame. But I come from a 24/7-email, "we don't sleep, we take naps" world, so it's clearly just conditioning. Using a new lens to examine ideas and emotions previously attached to my day-to-day priorities, aspirations, and appetite for success (read Zosia Mamet ask "Must every woman build an empire?") invites valuable critique, I'm learning. So exploring all that has been fun.
It's natural for us to focus on milestones and events— taking inventory on our lives is a constant. We hop from A to B, one relationship to another, downward-facing dog to plank pose. Thanks to a treasured yoga teacher of mine, I've been trying to flip that mentality and approach life's pockets of transition with curiosity. Why don't the in-between moments that separate our achievements demand more of our attention?The car ride from A to B. The thought patterns that surface when we're between partners. And the muscle energy harnessed while shifting from down-dog to plank. There's important information there.
WHAT'S A PATANJALI?
Despite feeling like my identity is getting jostled about, I'm adjusting more each day. Going from nine years of swearing by living alone to having two roommates isn't the nightmare I thought it would be (full disclosure: they're both pretty wonderful), and in turn, my comfort zone continues to swell.
So what if my savings is hemorrhaging! If cultivating some quiet can't help me produce anything tangible in the long run, then at least I can be grateful and content for each tranquil moment that passes here. That honestly might be enough. Time, I'm assuming, will inevitably tell if having the footing to explore writing and teaching yoga full-time was worth trying in the first place.
Thoughts about the future still play duck-duck-goose in my mind, but willingly relinquishing control might actually be my favorite part of the transition these last few months. It's also the most alarming.
Luckily, I have reinforcements.
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of yoga include guidelines called the Yamas and Niyamas — things we should consider abstaining from, and practices we should consider cultivating, respectively. Aparigraha (the fifth Yama describing non-grasping, be it possessions, relationships, or ego-gluttony) has allowed me to get over myself when it comes to my current surroundings, my previously stable income, and the people I interact with. Taking Santosha (the second Niyama describing satisfaction and not requiring more than what you have) into consideration, it's hard to ignore my formerly rigid, rule-centered mindset suddenly being tolerant of all the chaos that comes my way.
I'll be back in New York eventually. I'm just not sure when.
Far from turning my back on the big apple, visiting yoga teachers, event-hopping with cronies and face-to-face meetings lure me back in. Meantime, I'm thankful to have kind words from supportive well-wishers and colleagues serving as reminders that there are benefits to this perhaps-reckless recess, and that I'll come out shining on the other side. I suspect they're right, but it wouldn't hurt to pour out a little kombucha for your girl either.