A few weeks ago, I committed to attending a meditation workshop at Yoga Shanti on a Friday evening after work. It just so happens that on the day of the workshop, I had both my full-time job at the school, and my new second job as a teaching artist in an after-school program at a different school. The plan was to catch a train directly from the second job to the meditation workshop.
During the day at my first job, a few things happened that triggered my fight-or-flight system, and I started to spin out a little. But I managed to make it through the day, and when I arrived at my second job, I felt somewhat calmer.
When I realized I was going to be late for the meditation workshop, though, the latent anxiety from earlier in the day picked up again. It probably didn’t help that, as a result of operating from fear for most of the day, I’d lost my appetite and hadn’t eaten much. I had no fuel for my brain and body. Thoughts spinning, I started to worry about my first job again.
Meantime, my friend who invited me to the workshop was texting me that the group was waiting for me to start. I felt out of control and guilty.
I showed up 10 minutes late, still swirling in survival mode and feeling disoriented. I apologized and took my seat on the cushion among four other women and the teacher.
By way of introduction, the facilitator Keely Garfield invited us to share why we meditate. After each person shared, she took a moment to attend to what they had said, offering insight and reflection with a lot of care and kindness.
I scoured my brain and finally landed on my answer, so when it came my turn I shared that “I’m learning to love myself, and meditation helps me on that journey.”
Keely listened and paused. Then she said this really great quote that has stuck with me ever since: “Meditation is not a self-improvement project. It’s a self-awareness practice.” She spoke about the possibility of coming to the cushion without expectation, simply to practice awareness.
I hadn’t realized that I was trying—once again—to be good, to improve, to be better. It’s a trip I lay on myself and on all that I do, and has been a powerful driving force most of my life. But the quote she offered invited me to contemplate: what if I am exactly what I am and there is nobody else to be? What if I can witness myself and all of my actions with open curiosity and not a shred of expectation?
I often tell my yoga students to show up with whatever arises: the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. Show up without judgment. Practice radical acceptance. Simply cultivate awareness. Yet I had forgotten to do that myself!
In the wake of Keely’s powerful reminder to just be with what is, I began to relax into my anxiety. It was like a crack of space began to open in my armor of fear, and I could surrender.
In the toughest moments, it’s hardest for me to remember the tool of simple awareness, but the more I practice, the easier it becomes. And if it doesn't, then that's okay too. I can simply witness.
How do you remember to give yourself grace and total acceptance without expectation, whether on the cushion or out there living life? I’d love to know! Comment here or feel free to email me.
Sending much love to you all.