Most days, the morning dawns and I wake up tired, I fuel up on coffee and oatmeal, and race into my day. There are diapers to be changed and underwear to be found. Clean clothes to put onto wiggly bodies. Turns out, kids have to eat every single day. Exactly three times a day plus a snack at some point. That, my friend, is exhausting. After they’ve eaten breakfast, yet AGAIN, I deliver Jackson to preschool and run by the library. Parker roams the aisles and picks out a few books to be read to him. He dumps out bins of pretend food onto the floor and does a little cooking. I search for books they’d enjoy at home. We check out our goods at the front desk and head to the grocery store, because we have to eat (it’s a common theme). I roam more aisles, and leave with a hefty bill and bags in tow. Parker and I pick up Jackson, and head back home. I carry bags of groceries into the house and put them away. We eat a quick lunch and by now I am thinking about how soon nap time will arrive. And still the clothes need to be washed, the kitchen needs to be cleaned up from last night’s dinner, and the bathroom, let’s not even talk about the bathroom. At this point, it’s just after noon, and I’m already run into the ground. But I keep doing it. Day after day after day. Somehow I’ve convinced myself to accept that the more I do, the more productive I am, the more activities on my calendar, the better.
I’ve decided that this way of living is just not working for me anymore. My heart, my mind, and my body are all asking for calm. For quiet. For peace. For less go time.
And so having no idea where or how to start the process of slowing down, I looked into practicing yoga. An ancient art that unites the body, mind and soul through focused breathing, poses and meditation. In my first class, I floundered through the first 50 minutes. I watched the instructor closely and followed along as best as I could. We did downward dogs, up dogs, and planks. Cats and cows, pigeons and monkeys. We did warrior poses and triangles. My legs shook. I tipped and fell out of balance. The stretches uncovered tight, sleeping muscles in need of a good awakening. I stood tall in tree pose. I wobbled excessively. But then, in the last ten minutes, something happened. The peace I was looking for found me.
The instructor asked us all to lay in corpse pose, completely relaxed on our backs with our palms facing upward. She talked for a bit, her voice soothing. She talked about letting go. Of tension. Of thoughts. Of worries. Letting go of it all. I breathed in and out. Thoughts came to mind (Are some of my books overdue at the library again? I spend a fortune there.) and I quietly let them go. More thoughts came (What should I make for dinner? Oh I forgot to pick up noodles at the store. No spaghetti, then. Hmm. Maybe enchiladas. We haven’t had those in a while. And the kids might eat them. Well, probably not.) and I realized how difficult it is to ask your mind to be still. For years upon years my body and mind had been racing full speed. It knew no other way of being. And now suddenly, I was changing the rules with my request for quiet within.
My chest rose up and fell in even rhythms, my eyes closed, I focused on my breathing. Slowly. Innnnn. Ouuuuut. Innnnn. Ouuuut. Let. Go. My body was still, my mind was working toward stillness, and my heart, thankfully, was not still. A sense of peace filled the quiet room and slowly a still mind unfolded within me. This much needed peace and quiet hit me hard. Big tears welled up under my closed eyes. They ran down my cheeks slowly. I thought about wiping them away, even though I was not supposed to be thinking of anything at all. I realized this was the first time I had taken good care of myself in a long time. I needed this quiet, calm, peaceful time. I felt like the girl who was laying on the floor was a shell of my old self. My core seemed lost in all the hustle and chaos of the day to day demands of young children. I’d convinced myself that productivity was the way toward fulfillment, toward living well. But, now, I was rethinking all of that. This was the beginning of me learning to listen to my soul, my being. I was starting to take care of myself.
I wonder if one of the reasons it’s so hard for us to be still is that we feel a little worried about what we will uncover about ourselves if we really sat and listened attentively to our hearts. And so we go go go, because we can’t hear anything above the racket we make when our bodies and minds are absorbed in endless tasks, endless chatter, endless activity. The nonstop din helps us tune out the heckler who whispers things like, “Put down Thomas the train and stop fooling around! If you’re really productive today, you can get your fridge cleaned out and the playroom vacuumed. Don’t you want all those dried play-doh pieces sucked up out of the carpet. They are driving you and me both nuts! Now, get started!” Other days she whispers, “Sign your kids up for something for each day of the week or they’ll get behind. They’ll miss out. And it will be all your fault!” Sometimes she says, “You really should be able to do more in the day than you actually accomplish. Did you see how clean Melissa’s house was the other day? She’s got it all together. Why don’t you?”
Here’s what I’m learning to do with the helping hand of yoga and slowing down and mindful stillness. I’m learning to give the heckler the middle finger. I’m learning to say, “I love dried play-doh pieces stuck in the carpet. I love not being overscheduled. And I love that my house actually looks like people live in it. Because guess, what? We do!” And I’m learning to listen closely to another voice in my heart. The one that is perfectly okay with good enough. The one that sings. The one that notices the simple joys. It’s the voice that speaks my truths. It’s the voice in search of a life well lived.
Stillness is still difficult for me. But I’m working at it. I’m making yoga a priority because the quiet, simple, focused time breathes new life into me. And when I can breathe in life, I can breathe out love. It renews my spirit. It gives me patience. It allows me to be okay with saying no and doing less and living more. I’m challenging myself to slow down. To be still. To breathe. To listen. To love. And in the stillness, I’m hearing beautiful things. I hear brothers laughing. I hear leaves rustling. I hear floorboards creak. I hear air moving softly in through my nose and then the hum as it leaves me peacefully. In the stillness, I am seeing beautiful things. The wet wrinkles that mark the fingers and toes of boys who plead to bathe just a little longer each night. The midday crescent moon stuck high in the middle of sky blue skies. The way Parker’s hair falls into a side sweep of gold and yellow and brown tones all layered together. In the stillness, I am feeling beautiful things. Renewed. Refreshed. Alive. My heart sings and my truths cheer, as I am ever so slowly learning to practice the fine art of stillness.