In the Boat


March is coming to a close.

We are in full-on spring season. (My allergies agree but the weather is arguing.)

And things are heating up.

It seems like most everyone I talk with is going through an incredibly busy and stressful and hard season right now.

Whether you are in the rhythm of a school year schedule or not, it seems like spring is a time of push, of seeing a Finish Line of some sort and then mustering up the energy (and gumption) to finish strong.

The flowers are bursting up from the dirt and patches of green are beginning to sprout, and while my heart still leaps at this promise fulfilled, this year I keep realizing the amount of work it takes for life to spring forth. To finish strong.

All the flowers poking their heads out or showing their green beginnings—it must take so much effort to push through the soil in order to reach the surface and bloom.

The journey upward from the depths takes so much effort.

In yoga, we talk about finding the ease (sukha) in the effort (sthira).

Karyn, our instructor, will have us do this terribly hard pose, where we are working and working to hold the position. We’re straining and trying to keep the yoga breath and hold the pose and hold the pose and keep the breath and NOT DIE, and then she’ll say something like, “Pay attention to your thoughts. Where are they going right now?”

In those moments, I usually find myself saying (or screaming) to myself, “There is no way you can hold for any more seconds. You can’t do this. This is SO FREAKING HARD!”

She says, “Are you telling yourself you can do it? Or telling yourself you can’t? Are you trying to find a way out of this? Or are you settling in to be in the pose?”

Then she says, “This is hard. What you’re doing is hard, but where can you let go? Where are you straining that you don’t need to strain? Where are you pushing that you can actually relax and still be in the pose?”

Once she raises this awareness, I usually realize that I’m holding the pose like this:

Boat Pose with Knox

My eyebrows are trying to reach my hairline. My face is contorted. I look ridiculous.

(I reminds me of how I always open my mouth when I’m putting on mascara. Why do I do that? Every time I put on mascara, my mouth opens in a cartoon-y exaggerated way. As if opening my mouth helps the mascara to go on better.

Or how sometimes when I’m walking or driving or working at the computer, I suddenly realize I’ve raised my shoulders so high they are touching my ears. Why in the world are my shoulders up to my ears? And how did I not even notice I was doing this?)

“You’re doing this hard thing,” Karyn tells us, “but we are here. You are in this pose and we are going to do this. Look for where you can find the ease (sukha) in the effort (sthira). What can you let go of?

I find places that have no need to be tense in order to hold this pose. My eyebrows find their normal resting place and my entire face begins to relax, which enables me to breathe better. My hands relax. My feet relax. I start to get creative and think about different parts of my body and I ask,

“Where can I relax and still be in this hard place?”

And soon, even though we’ve been in the pose FOR AT LEAST THREE DAYS, it feels lighter, better, doable.

And I’m back to breathing.

Trying for some ease

I remember when I was a kid and I was flying solo on an airplane to visit my dad. The flight attendant would do the safety talk and every time he or she got to the part about grown-ups putting on their oxygen masks first, it kind of ticked me off.

It seemed like an excuse for self-preservation. Ha.

Now it makes total sense: You have to give yourself oxygen so you can help those around you.

Sometimes I think we forget this.
Or at least I do.

So we go and we go and we help and we help and we do and we go and we help and we do and we take care of all the people around us.

And forget ourselves.

I’m learning this isn’t sustainable. And that something eventually will cause you to hit a wall. To shut down.

Whether it be relationships crumbling or slacking in our responsibilities, life has a way of throwing red flags our way, of telling us we need to stop for some self-care.

Sometimes it’s when we fail at something big.
Sometimes it’s when our bodies give out on us.

Last October I landed in the hospital because a kidney infection had run rampant through my body and I was septic. I had no idea I was even sick—until I was bad sick.

How in the world did I not know I had a kidney infection? And one that was so bad it had almost taken me over? How did I not feel the pain of symptoms before it became out of control?

A friend of mine recently discovered she had a brain tumor.
She had apparently had this for years—and never knew it was there. She never noticed the symptoms.

I’ve had friends land in the hospital because the stress of life tried to take them out.
Friends who found themselves sinking further and further away from who they really are because they were trying to find a way to hit the escape button.

I think things like this happen when we aren’t paying attention, listening, or taking care of ourselves.

And if we fall apart, we can’t take care of the people we love.

Last summer, when Knox and I were working through our conversations about wounds, we talked about how it all comes down to LOVE. We are called to love. This includes loving the people who are easy, the people who are hard (and mean!) but it also includes loving ourselves.

We have to love others enough to not pass wounds around, and love ourselves enough to be brave and stand up for ourselves.

And take care of ourselves.

It can seem selfish to take time for ourselves, but living lives of love is much like a drink offering, we have to be filled up before we can be poured out.

“You’re the only person who is always gonna be there for you. So you gotta take care of you.”                                                                                                              —Abby Fishbeck

I remember my twenty-year-old self standing in a room at a college retreat, hands in the air, committing to give my all—my hopes, my dreams, my very life to the God of the universe. I told God that I only wanted to pursue what God wanted and nothing more. And I wanted my whole life to be a form of that same open position, ready to receive whatever I’m given.

But life has a way of knocking our hands down.

And I’ve found that with each year, the temptation to put my hands down and cross my arms in front of me in self-protection becomes more and more appealing.

It’s actually been a recent struggle. I’ve just wanted to say, “I tried that posture of living life, and really, it’s not just hard—it’s excruciating. So, I’m just going to kind of hang out over here. I’d like to just sit down please.”

Because living with an open heart just hurts.

When you’ve been in that “boat pose” for so long, pretty soon you don’t just want to relax your face and hands, you want to roll down to corpse pose.

But we can’t.

Because the fight (whatever fight you’re in) is worth it.

It’s been a while since we’ve written.

Things starting picking up over here, and we’ve had to adjust. We’ve been trying to pay attention to the strain of this pose we’re holding during this busy time and find places we can let go. And one of the things we temporarily let go of was this placeholder of thoughts.

But I also started to pay attention to my internal posture.
And I noticed my hands have been starting to wrap tightly around my abdomen.
And I’ve wanted to stay safe instead of open. Quiet instead of vulnerable.

Many of you have been encouraging our family, using such kind words to check in on our boys and on our life, and we’ve been able to have really Good conversations around all the different hards and highs of the journey.

You’ve helped us find the ease in the effort.

And that is my hope for you today.

That whatever hard you find yourself in, you can pay attention to your thoughts and tell yourself, “This is hard. What I’m doing is hard. But where can I let go? Where am I straining that I don’t need to strain? Where am I pushing that I can actually relax and still be in the pose?”

And that you loosen your grip on perfection and remind yourself that Good is where the life is.

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