a day in the sun. (a week in the shadows.)

three weeks ago, i returned to ohio. the place where i grew up. almost. my parents no longer have the house(s) i grew up in, and have downsized to a modest two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom. add me and my dog, and it’s a tight fit. it was a harried game of tetris, just to make a small space that barely fits my yoga mat, and i am still living out of my sole suitcase. coming from my house in saigon, in which the entire ground floor living room was a dedicated practice space, where i had my own bedroom and bathroom, as well as a thriving business, it has been a challenging transition. (not to mention trying to practice on carpet.)

then there’s the actual place itself. ohio in the summer is more beautiful than i ever realized in the 18 years i lived here. lush and green. and if you read my previous post, you’ll know i’d been spending ample time enjoying the woods. until i found out there is a serial rapist who has yet to be caught, and that the information has not made the news for fear of “upsetting the public.” i still spend time there. but i stay close to the paved path. which is, of course, a bit more crowded.

the people are largely born and raised here, with few travel experiences and little awareness of life outside of this microcosm. they skew conservative, politically and socially. and in general, i notice i am received one of two ways. either i am praised for my “adventurous lifestyle” or am largely ignored, viewed as some sort of outsider. even, sometimes, to my own family. and unsurprisingly, almost none of the friends i grew up with are still here. having so little in common with those around me, i feel lonely and isolated. even in the yoga community, it’s been impossible to find anyone to host me for a workshop, and the classes have a cliquey feel (in my admittedly limited experience).

so it’s been difficult. and it’s also reintroduced me to a part of my personality that is very tough for me to swallow. hypercritical. argumentative. cynical. which is difficult, too. not to mention ugly.

my time in ohio has been characterized mostly by sleeping too late, wasting time, and questioning facets of my core identity. (i should point out here, objectively, that there has been a part of this work that’s been crucial and beneficial.) i don’t really overeat (as you might expect, being in america), but i also don’t move enough to have an appetite. i feel heavy, inert, and lazy. 

but slowly, incrementally, i’ve been waking up to the subtler nature of what it is i’m feeling. which is to say, nothing. sure. it’s not joy or bliss or momentum. but it’s also not sorrow. not fear. not the dregs of suffering. and you know what empty is full of? space. opportunity. expansion.

so today i woke up. made coffee and lit the incense. i delved into the practice. some of it, the inspiration of the moment. and some of it, drills and exercises inspired by others, focusing on the areas where i need the most work. sweaty. poetic. humbling. mundane. the balance between the movements of someone with more than a decade of dance, and that of a clumsy injured warrior, regaining the use of her limbs. i watched as my frayed nervous system needed so many breaks. checking my phone. adjusting the playlist. refilling my coffee. and i also watched as i inhabited moments of grace, moments of beauty, moments of somehow continuing to show up.

and i realize that still, i ask too much of this practice. like a naive teenager who thinks her first boyfriend needs to be her whole world. i ask it to change my life every time i get on the mat. to catalyze catharsis and healing and to give me inspiration. to take off the weight i don’t know how to love and also to give me the tools to love it. to be my livelihood. to be my respite. to be something worth sharing on social media. to be something that i can somehow take apart and understand and pass onto others while still being infinite, divine, and beyond comprehension. so of course i will resist it if no one is relying on me to get it done. because who could be in a relationship with such high stakes?

and the practice. the writing. the productivity. it all flows together. the reminder that it is easier to share truths about the darkness once you’ve clawed your way out. that when you are there, in the blackness, comparison and guilt and shame aren’t successful motivators. that sometimes the best thing to do is to release the blame, the story, the competition in the mind. to surrender to the emptiness, and to allow that new and raw and beautifully delicate space to be filled with something better.

today, i practiced. i wrote, and i edited. i sent emails. i felt inspired. and for three weeks, i didn’t. save for the few moments where i reconnected with old clients who reminded me that i was once able to be of service. it’s important, i think, to remember that. that what you see are other people’s days in the sun. not their three weeks in the shadows. that flowers don’t bloom year-round, and that we wouldn’t appreciate them if they did. every season has its reason. and every season also has its end, yielding naturally to the one that follows. 

and also, it’s important, for me at least, to remember that those who are most successful, at anything, aren’t those looking to take the most from their practices. but those who are most motivated to give. and when i am able to give of myself. to give to myself. the breath, the asana, movement and the stillness, i no longer need the practice to be anything for me. when i allow the practice to be, the practice allows me to be, too.

and what a sweet freedom that is.

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