What to Do? Sit.

13799251124_1924e3681f_zby Jana Llewellyn

One of the ways I’ve dealt with loss in my life is by not trying to escape it. As painful as loss can be, I try to view the experience as a gift.

A few years ago, I lost a job I loved. I loved the work I was doing at the job, my feeling of personal value, the way my work lit me up and made me creative and productive. But I didn’t love the stressful and toxic environment. In the last few weeks, my stomach was upset as I walked into work every day, and I was having night sweats. Something was off, something was wrong, but I clung to my work because I believed I was doing something important. (And I was, just not important in the way I thought. It was my soul that was doing important work.)

The day after I lost my job, I walked into my regular Friday yoga class and the teacher announced they were still accepting students for yoga teacher training. I felt a spark when she spoke those words. Could I do that? Could that be my next step?

I sat with the strangeness for a couple of days. The idea of being a yoga teacher didn’t fit my concept of who I was. While I had always loved yoga and been drawn to it (even tried to teach it with friends through the years), I saw myself as an English teacher, an editor, a writer, a mother. These ideas of my identity were fixed in my mind. (Not to mention, I had a heading from The Onion stuck in my head: “One in Five Women Training to Be Yoga Instructors.” I didn’t want to be a cliche.)

I dove in anyway. What I learned quickly doing yoga and journeying inward that year was the central question of my life–of everyone’s life, really–was about identity. I was 33, and I didn’t know who I was. I knew who I was on a surface level. I knew the facts. But peeling the layers, at the core? I had no friggin’ idea.

The journey I took was hard, like climbing a mountain, or backpacking through a forest in the cold. I was in pain. I was aching for what I had lost, for the vision of the future I had with the job that made me feel so alive, the job I believed was the only one for me, the job that had given me such confidence. And there was no way to distract myself from this pain. There was nowhere to go, no other job to run to. Every morning, I faced it again. I was unemployed, rejected, lonely. So every morning, I did yoga. I went up to my attic, put on music, and tried poses in the order my teachers had taught me. It was early, I was tired, and my family slept. But I faced myself. Again and again, I let my thoughts come in, and I let them float away with each breath. I felt pain, or loss, or worry, or fear, or anger, and I reminded myself to slowly breathe in and out. I breathed through everything I thought and felt.

A few months later, it was time to start meditation. I created a mantra of affirmation I made for myself, so that I could change the beliefs I had, the self-critical part of me that kept saying I was a failure and I was no good, the part that was so ingrained in me I hadn’t ever been able to truly acknowledge her. She didn’t feel like just a part of me–she was me. All through my days, she’d pop up, telling me I was stupid, silly, weak, wrong. Always, always wrong. And stupid. And dumb. And worthless.

I closed my eyes and sat and repeated in my mind “I am love. I am light. I am god as woman. I am worthy. I am safe. I am strong.”

Any time thoughts came in as I repeated this phrase, I gently brushed them away, smoothed them like sand, and returned to my affirmations.

Eventually, my affirmation became a mantra, and that’s what I focus on today. The phrase Hamsa, which I understand to mean “I am that,”I am “that” which is part of everything–is what I repeat. Thoughts come in, I acknowledge them, I come back to my focus.

Hamsa. Hamsa. Hamsa.

This is the most amazing thing I’ve done in my life, aside from giving birth to my children. Sit still. Breathe. Recite a mantra.

Learn about myself. See into my interior. Grow more deeply in self love.

We can learn about ourselves in many ways, by doing all kinds of things. We learn by interacting with people, by taking on new roles, by doing different kinds of work. But in my life, sitting down and being with me–not distracting myself with music, or books, or TV, or screens, or my thoughts (which build and build and lead to all kinds of emotions and head-spins that usually don’t help me one bit)–has been the hardest, bravest, and most rewarding.

Once I started meditating, I noticed the sky was bluer. My children’s faces more gorgeous. Their laughter more profound.

I found joy.

And it all came from the impulse to learn about myself, to not escape, to not distract. To see myself as here for a reason, valuable beyond measure, and valuable even when I’m doing nothing. I had to learn I was a worthy and beautiful person not because I had gotten good grades, or received compliments on my clothes or hair, or because someone liked me and was pleased with my work. I had to learn I was worthy and beautiful simply because I am made, because I exist, because I am formed in love and my purpose in life is love and light, however that manifests at any given time.

Now, with divorce and other losses, I am grateful to have these tools that help me get through the big and small earthquakes of my life. I don’t have as much time as I did during my yoga training, but I find whatever I can. I sit. I breathe. I turn inward.

Hamsa. Hamsa.

And I swim past the flurry of thoughts into something deeper, toward the core of all things. I feel the emotions as they rise and pass. I stop focusing on my memories of the past, my fantasies of how things should be, what I wanted to happen, what I’m going to say or do if.

I just be.

And I’ve been living life more fully by doing that.

Image: “Mittenwald Mountain Landscape” by barnyz via Flickr.


Jana profile photo 2013

Jana Llewellyn has written essays, short fiction, reviews and cultural commentary for a range of online and print publications. Before starting The First Day, she taught writing and literature to teenagers and adults and worked as a writer and editor at the Quaker magazine, Friends Journal. She also teaches yoga and blogs at AnAttitudeAdjustment.com.

Click here to see all of Jana’s posts.

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