Shedding Layers

This month in my classes, I’ve been sharing the idea of Letting Go, and this week, I’ve been talking about Letting Go of the past by “unpacking.” This is the poem I shared.

New Home

When she was ready to move into her new home,
the first thing she unpacked was from her childhood.
It was that boy who called her a name because she didn’t look like him.
Or dress like him.
Because her mother worked the register at the Five and Dime as they called it back then
and her father worked on other people’s cars.
She took that boy out of the invisible suitcase she carried on her back, shook him off, and let him go.

The next thing she unpacked was from her teen years.
She reached into her bag and with a gentle tug,
pulled forth the memory of the girls who said she couldn’t sit with them at lunch.
That she belonged somewhere else—anywhere else.
She held those girls up and stared at them long and hard, and with a whisper of forgiveness,
she let them go.

Feeling lighter now and so much stronger,
she then unpacked her college boyfriend who had broken her heart,
her first boss who yelled at her for sport, she was sure,
the series of dates that ended terribly
the jobs she abandoned
the man she was with when she should have known better,
the men she was with when she should have known better.
From her suitcase she yanked the memory of the extra money she’d stolen from the tip jar,
and the times she said she would be there and wasn’t—
She freed all the “Wrong” things she said and did
and all the “Wrong” things that were done to her.
She held up
the memory of her father’s death
and her mother’s illness.
Each was wrapped in an extra thick protective layer of guilt.
Pulling at the packaging, they unraveled quickly, so she let them go, too.   

Then, she placed each memory carefully on a quilt laid out on the floor before her
and with one deep breath, she took them all in—the sorrow, the guilt, the embarrassment, the shame, the solitude, the pain—so, so much pain—and then, she breathed them out.

She did this again and again until the people and the jobs and the memories were nothing more than dust in the palm of her hand.

With one soft blow, they were all released,
and with a full heart and a free mind, she was home.  

Taking a Break from My Phone

I’ve been taking a break from my phone. Not a big break, and not for any extended periods of time, but every day, while I walk the dog, I don’t let myself answer a call, text, or email, unless it’s an emergency.

It wasn’t an easy habit to get into, but it was one I desperately needed. Constantly engaging with my phone became an energy drain and frankly, it’s a waste of time. Yes, emails have to be checked and texts have to be answered, but most of the time, they don’t have to happen at that very moment.

I began living with my phone glued to my side years ago when my brother-in-law was very ill. As the years passed and my parents became elderly and my girls became old enough to be out with friends, my phone continued–and continues–to be attached to me. I keep it with me through work, social interaction, and I sleep with it next to my bed. There really is no choice. Many times I’ve been woken by an emergency call because someone needed to go to the hospital.

Phones can’t be avoided. But I’ve found that their constant distraction can be.

Sophie gets walked a minimum of three times a day, and I noticed that while she sniffed out new territory, I would naturally gravitate to my phone. Between a, “Good Girl” and a, “Come on, let’s run,” I’d knock out a few texts, and sometimes, standing there while holding her leash and balancing a bottle of water, I would send an email or two. While it’s great to be productive, there has to be an end point. Do we really need to work constantly?

Without my fingers scrolling through Instagram, I now hear the birds and take deeper breaths. Because of it, my mind feels clearer and my mood is better.

Just lifting my head from the thrust it had while on the phone has lifted my spirits. And since I’ve put the phone away on my walks, I’ve noticed it’s easier to put it away at other times, too.

I have definitely noticed the correlation between less screen time and a better mood.

And those emails still get sent and the texts are still answered. But now, I’m doing them during designated “work” times, rather than times I should be off my phone and enjoying myself.

Practicing Ahimsa with Ourselves

Sitting in my car is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

Let me explain.

First off, what is Ahimsa and why do we want to practice it?

What is Ahimsa?

Simply put, Ahimsa means non-harming (doing no harm) and non-violence. Living with the intention of not harming a single living being – both physically, and through our words.

Where does it come from?

Ahimsa is part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. You may have heard that yoga is more than just Asana, or movement. In fact, Asana is merely one branch of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Two of the other limbs are Yama and Niyama (moral and ethical restraints and observances), and this is where Ahimsa lives. The Yamas and Niyamas are often considered the “right way” of living.

Roughly speaking, the Yamas tend to deal with how we interact with the world around us, and include things we shouldn’t be doing—stealing, harming etc. The Niyamas are guides of habits for healthy body and spiritual living—including cleanliness and contentment.

And today, we’re looking at the idea of practicing Ahimsa with ourselves.

Practicing Ahimsa with the World

Most of us try to be kind and nice to others, and we may do things that reflect that desire. Maybe we are vegetarians or vegans. Maybe we silently wish people “well” when we pass them on the street. Maybe we volunteer or partake in any of the other countless ways to practice Ahimsa when dealing with others.

But how well do we do when it comes to practicing Ahimsa with ourselves?

Practicing Ahimsa with ourselves

This brings me back to sitting in my car, and why this is not practicing Ahimsa with myself. I’m in my car a lot. I consider myself very fortunate to have a car and the ability to chauffer the people I love—my girls to trombone lessons and cheer practice, and elderly parents to food stores and doctor appointments—to name a few.

As any mom can tell you, rather than driving back and forth, it’s often a better use of time to park outside these activities and get work done. However, I have learned that repeatedly sitting for hours while I wait, is not practicing Ahimsa with myself.

Leaning over in a cramped car, pushing to finish work while I’m hungry or frustrated is not practicing non-harming of myself. My body gets tight and sore, and a headache inevitably begins. Then the internal monologue starts: “I’ll never get this done. This isn’t good enough. Why can’t I just get this finished? What’s wrong with me?” And it’s a downward spiral from there.

Sound familiar?

Do you practice Ahimsa with yourself?

Or do you spend countless hours every day beating yourself up, comparing yourself to others, and forgetting to love yourself?

How to Practice Ahimsa with Yourself

It’s different for everyone, of course. But for me, getting out of the car and taking a walk makes a huge difference. In this way, I’m caring for my body and giving my brain a break.

Stop the negative rhetoric. Every time you think, “I can’t… I’m not… I’m____ (stupid, incompetent, ugly, etc)” close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let that thought go. Follow it with a positive thought and be specific. Instead of, “I’m the worst. I haven’t spent enough time with my kids today,” try, “I accomplished so much at work today and that will give me more time to spend with my kids tomorrow.” It’s about balance.

You need to show yourself loving kindness in order to show it to anyone else.

I know. We all think we can put ourselves last and this somehow makes us better people. What this really does is make us tired, rundown, grouchy, overwhelmed, and exhausted. We grow sad and irritable.

It may not be reasonable for you to go to the yoga studio every day. That’s true for most of us. But can you take 15 minutes for a walk, a warm bath, or to read a book? 10 minutes to journal? Or 5 minutes to meditate?

Putting yourself first – even for a few minutes a day – will help you to develop Ahimsa with yourself.

Taking the time to recognize that you are a person who matters—just as much as anyone else—will help you build a more positive journey with yourself.

It’s not easy. On my Crunchy Granola Yoga Journey I’m realizing it takes a lot of shifting or even tossing the old to make room for the new.

But when we talk about practicing Ahimsa with ourselves, the outcome is so worth it.