We sit on the floor in criss-cross applesauce at the beginning of yoga class, and Jane instructs us to close our eyes and remember a time during childhood when we were hurt or scared, in order to find if there are areas in which we need to release and to forgive. Her soothing voice and evocative words take each of us back to address our own personal boogeymen, troubles that loomed large because we were so small.
This won’t work, says my inner voice. I’ve already exorcised all my demons.
I open my eyes and peek around the room, surprised that my fellow classmates are going crimson in the face as strong emotions rise from their bellies. Something powerful is going on, and if I can surrender my thoughts to my emotions, I may have the chance to release something I’ve carried for a very long time.
Hah, that’s what you think! — comes a reply, also inside my head.
With an exhale I allow my hips and tailbone to feel heavy, to sink into the earth. With an inhale I lift my spine, filling the space between my vertebrae with, well, more space. In an instant
I see Mommy and Daddy walking away. I see them through the droplets of the dank and cold prison they’re leaving me in, the plastic walls and ceiling I’m sealed inside, where I’m having trouble breathing. Don’t leave me! I’ll be good! I won’t scare you any more please just don’t leave me here! I scream and still they walk away. AGAIN. Every night they leave me here. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! They leave me here in the care of my torturers who stab me with sharp things and make me bleed and hurt me over and over again. They leave me here in a wet and cold bed. They leave me here in a place where I get only icky food. They put masks over my face thirteen times a day and it smells bad. I am suffocating. I am so afraid and uncomfortable and….ANGRY. I am so angry at all of them for putting me here, for leaving me here.
I hate this oxygen tent. I hate the nurse who gives me shots. I hate the doctor who keeps adding days and nights I have to stay here. I hate all the white, and the smell of someone they call Auntie Septy. I hate my lungs for getting New Monya again. I’m mad at my parents for leaving me behind again. I’m mad that I’m so small and powerless still. I’m mad at my body. I hate my life. HATE HATEHATE HATE!
I am shocked to meet my hate-fueled (and scared) 5 year-old self. I am amazed that I could uncover all that in about 5 mindful breaths.
We begin our sun salutations, stretching the sides and back parts of our bodies with forward folds and crescent moons, strengthening our cores with plank pose and chaturrangas, then simultaneously grounding and lifting in downward dog. Yoga is a practice of alternating currents, of balancing opposites to bring about wholeness: right/left, upper/lower, front/back, sun/moon, rising/melting, strength/stretch, inhale/exhale, tension/release.
And, apparently, my past and my present.
As I move through the rest of the practice, I focus on my breath. With the inhales, I abide with that scared little girl I once was. I am acutely aware of the tension in her body, the balls of wadded up anger, of densely packed fear. With my exhales, I mindfully aim to dissolve those balls of heavy energy, some still residing in my body — mainly in my lungs and hips — using my breath and intention.
The oxygen tent is where I began laying victim patterns that would serve as my template for 30+ years. It was in that cold, wet, lonely place that I realized I was at the mercy of others, that I did not control my circumstances, that I was not the subject in my life but rather an object in others’. The doctors made me endure procedures that hurt, my parents made me swallow icky medicines and stay in fearsome places, my body continually disappointed me by not functioning as it should.
I do my thing: I look at this childhood scene through a rational lens. Of course my parents weren’t persecuting me. Of course it was as hard for them to leave me each night as it was for me to be left. Of course the doctors and nurses weren’t trying to hurt me; they were trying to heal me. Of course I wasn’t abandoned; people were there to make sure I was going to be okay. Of course my body wasn’t malfunctioning on purpose; it was doing the best it could.
But the 5 year-old on my yoga mat with me is not a rational being. I have carried her emotional energy of being scared, alone, abandoned, bereft, unwell. She’s pissed. Mad at those who left her, mad at those who poked her, mad at the body that put her in her predicament. She’s been having tantrums ever since, not having an outlet for her fear and anger.
With my teacher’s invitation to dig deep and excavate what lurks beneath my awareness, I am able to give the girl a voice. I feel my face turn crimson as the anger rises from my belly. Now that I know such a well of fear and anger is there, I can access it, breathe through it, release it.
We moved from the east coast to Colorado between my 3rd and 4th grade years. Of my early school life in New Jersey, I remember just a few things:
that our principal’s name was Mr. Schank (but he was really nice in spite of his unfortunate moniker).
that all the other kids went to either Catechism or Hebrew School and I was left out (I am still surprised that Protestantism isn’t considered a minority religion in this country, based on my early template).
that Dad helped me bring up a low grade in “shows initiative” by doing an extra assignment that involved soaking a chicken bone in vinegar to make it rubbery.
that we used to square dance in gym class.
I loved square dancing in gym class. It was the only thing I loved about gym class. After we moved to a school district that didn’t have square dancing in its curriculum, I didn’t square dance for 40+ more years (except for one of the first dates Roger and I had — a wedding reception for his British friend who married a Kentucky girl and that included high tea and square dancing).
This month our CSA closed its inaugural season with a harvest festival. My sister Tami and I took our kids to pick up our last share of veggies and to take part in the kids crafts and farm tour.
Little did I know I was in for live music, a Caller, and………..square dancing!
Son, Nephew, Daughter and I do-si-doing
As the bluegrass band started pickin’, the Caller rallied dancers of all ages. Not many grownups took him up on the offer, but I sprang right up from my hay bale as soon as I realized I was going to have the chance to re-create fond memories from my early childhood — with my children.
The Caller did not disappoint. He went on for more than an hour and covered a broad repertoire. Early on, I realized I was having a moment and mouthed “PERFECT MOMENT” to Tami, still with her baby daughter and husband on the hay bale, who, through sister shorthand, knew exactly what I wanted her to do.
I learned anew how to honor my partner, promenade, right-hand star, allemande left, do the Virginia Reel and Cumberland Reel, do-si-do and circle left.
In the still-warm early fall air and the soft pre-dusk light, there with my past and my future, I had a moment of perfectly square-shaped bliss.
Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.
On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join.