Week 24 Review: Old Lessons Made New

Person performs mystical "Sun Salutation&...

Image by mikebaird via Flickr

I attended a two-hour Chakra Vinyasa™ workshop with Simon Park this morning at Prana Yoga. He’s been doing mini-workshops all weekend, but in the interest of balance I decided to attend only one. I think I’d rather have a more regular practice again before I do an arm balance and inversion workshop, anyway.

In 2004, shortly after we moved to California, I completed a yoga teacher training program. For the most part, I really enjoyed it despite something of an inferiority complex about my own proficiency at yoga. I’m not a naturally flexible person, physically and perhaps emotionally, too. I began taking yoga classes because I had a desk job that was giving me back pain and I had done a physical fitness assessment that showed that I was a good six inches from being able to reach my toes with straight legs. At the class I took during lunchtime at work, I felt pretty good. I felt a little intimidated by the discrepancy between where I was and how much more path was ahead of me, but I also felt myself getting stronger, feeling less pain, and just in general feeling healthy.

Then we moved to California and I started attending classes at an honest-to-goodness yoga studio. I’ve found that a lot of people are drawn to yoga from dance and gymnastics. In a room full of dancers surrounded by mirrors, I really felt like an ugly duckling but with no firm conviction that swandom was anywhere in my future.

In retrospect, it’s amazing I persevered. Every time I walked into the studio, I remembered what one of my teachers in North Carolina used to say, “Leave your ego at the door.” It was a Risk Looking Silly immersion course, except there was no “risk” about it. Just showing up, I looked silly, and I could either accept it or flee.

Near the end of teacher training, one of our instructors led us in an inversions intensive. For the first time ever I was practicing hand stands. It was exciting and scary, and I tried to greet each class and new challenge with enthusiasm.

Until.

We were practicing assisting one another doing handstands against the wall. It was my turn to do the handstand with one of my fellow students assisting and our instructor giving suggestions. I planted my hands about a foot from the wall and began kicking my feet up as gracefully as I could manage.

“Be careful,” I heard our instructor tell my fellow student, “She’s beyond clumsy.”

That hurt. It was true, but it was not at all fair for our instructor to make that proclamation. He was an Iyengar teacher, so I guess I should be grateful he didn’t kick me. But after that any proficiency at handstands that I’d earned evaporated. Not only could I no longer get anywhere near actually doing a handstand, since that comment I become very emotional whenever I attempt one.

While Simon Park did encourage us to try handstands and forearm balances today, he did so in a very gentle way. His manner was wonderful. He smiled a lot, genuine relaxed smiles that helped me feel at ease even though I knew no one in the class. (On a side note, I was surprised how few people were at the workshop. I thought with an internationally known teacher like Simon Park, the place would be packed. Salt Lake City frequently surprises me.)

I loved watching Simon demonstrate the poses. I was pleased to find that, while I was watching him effortlessly flow from downward dog into a forearm balance, I admired the beauty of the control he had of his body and the strength he’d cultivated rather than dwelling on how unlikely it was I would ever be able to do something like that. It’s true: that level of grace and strength is something I’m not likely to achieve in this lifetime. But today, that wasn’t a sore point for me.

When he finished demonstrating, Simon said, smiling, “So, you can do any of that or none of it. Any part of it you do is beneficial. Even just watching, you learn.”

I see how people fall in love with yoga instructors. (No, I’m not in love with Simon Park. I just see how someone could be. It’s powerful stuff to be told so convincingly by someone clearly so comfortable in their own body that I’m fine just the way I am.)

So, why is it that I go to a yoga class where I can’t do everything and leave feeling uplifted and encouraged, while I go skiing or to Aikido and find myself nearly in tears?

I think the answer is the nearly eleven years of practice I’ve put into yoga. I’m not great at physical pursuits. That’s not where my natural gifts lie. But I’ve been loving and hating yoga for so long, I think I’ve figured out how to focus on the process rather than on the product.

It also helps that there’s so much focus on breathing and flow. It’s harder for me to get pissed off and frustrated when I’m constantly being encouraged to breathe as part of the practice.

Also, there were no mirrors in the studio we were in today. That goes a long way towards helping me just feel what my body’s doing rather than trying to make it look like the body of anyone else in class.

I suppose the challenge is to apply that embracing of imperfection to other parts of my life so I can allow myself to be open to new experiences and whatever emotions come along with them.

Something else Simon Park talked about today resonated with me. He talked about how the throat chakra is the link between the lower body chakras and the upper intellectual and spiritual chakras.

“While the chakras aren’t technically ‘real’ structures,” he explained, “they do represent different areas of energy in our bodies.” The suggestion he made was that, by chanting or singing, we activate the throat chakra and integrate those different energies.

Not a new idea for me, but with my thoughts lately of trying to balance and integrate the feminine and masculine aspects of myself, this seems like a timely suggestion. The fact that pretty much any religious tradition has some musical element like chanting or singing just lends credence to the effectiveness of this practice. While I’m not ready to add a “singing” resolution, it certainly has given me something to ponder.

Ready to Ski

Three layers down, two more to go.

Silk base layer

Yoga pants

Wicking long-sleeved running shirt (with zipper at the neck)

Fleece vest

Brand-new pink insulating layer with zipper vents that could double as outer layer (breathable and water-resistant)

Breathable, water-resistant insulated pants (tag still attached)

Wool socks

Winter boots

Glove liners

Insulated, water-resistant gloves

My regular everyday winter jacket (bought from the thrift store)

My regular everyday knit hat (fleece-lined in a band around the forehead and ears)

Sunglasses

Sunscreen

Gluten-free, dairy-free food bars

Water bottle

Camera

Now, what to do with my hair?

Going Soft

I’ve decided I don’t do well without a focus, and that apparently “fun” isn’t focus enough for me. I like fun, I just think I do better getting to it from a less direct path than pursuing it outright. More of a Benjamin Franklin approach than a John Adams approach (yes, I’m still watching the John Adams miniseries).

I’ve mentioned it before, but I think there are a lot of unhappinesses in my life that stem from too great a reliance on the “masculine” side of things. Not that intellect and a direct approach and a reliance on the mind is bad. It’s served me well for as long as I can remember. But it’s not balanced. And I think I’m missing out on a fullness in life by having the balance tilted too far over to that one side.

As a result, I’ve decided to focus on softness. I want to practice allowing myself to trust my intuition and my emotions. I want to practice forgiveness and love. I want to connect physically with others—especially my husband and children. I want to touch, to hug, to dance with my kids. Not that I don’t do those things already, I just do them more as an afterthought. I want those things to be part of the entree, not the dessert. I want to bring awareness to my body and how it’s feeling, rather than automatically pushing aside the sensations. I want to allow my body the freedom to move without being judged and controlled by my mind. This will make it necessary to Risk Looking Silly like a sonofagun. So I hope to take baby steps so as not to cause myself too much discomfort and perhaps cause me to scrap the whole plan.

I’m going to make time and space in my budget for body therapies (e.g., massage, facials, pedicures). I tend to view these as indulgent, and maybe they are. But I also think that I need those kinds of things right now to bring me into my body gently.

Yin yoga is another element I’d like to incorporate into my routine. I’ve done one yin yoga class (about three years ago) and two practices on a Paul Grilley DVD I checked out from the library (this past week). It’s a meditative practice that focuses on very gently deepening a pose and inviting openness in one’s body without aggressive movement. I tend to view yin yoga as a waste of time, but this is because I look at it as a type of exercise. If I look at it as exercise, it does fall a little short of other practices. But if I liberate it from the “fitness” label, I can see its value. I’ll stick with my DVDs for a while, the one I have from the library already and the one I’m going to pick up this weekend. Then I might try some of the yin classes at local yoga studios.

And then the same thing I’ve been doing: just breathing and bringing awareness to the moment.

There are other things I’ve considered adding, like music (singing or playing an instrument, especially) and dance, things that allow me to feel music throughout my body. But those things require a little more emotional effort and bravery on my part. I’ll save those for after I’m comfortable with my less scary pursuits.

And I recognize that this list-making and written planning is “masculine.” I’m not scrapping all of that kind of thing. I’m not sure I could function in society if I scrapped it all. I’m just trying to tip the balance a tad more towards the feminine.

Part of what pushed me over to wanting to add more feminine elements to my life was the recognition of how I use my birth experience with my son as a kind of emotional talisman. I instinctively reject the ra-ra, “I birthed a 9-pound baby in a tub in my living room; I rock!” kind of things around the experience, which is a more masculine reaction.

Birthing my son was an exercise in letting go and trusting my body and allowing myself to feel the love those around me were offering. The fact that I think of it when I feel a need to protect myself leads me to believe that I have a craving for more of that kind of vulnerability, scary as that might be. Upon reflection, his birth was a totally feminine experience. (This would seem to be a given when talking about birth, but birth in the US is often much more masculine than it is feminine. Giving birth to my daughter in a highly-managed hospital situation, it was anything but “feminine.”) Birthing my son involved bringing my awareness to my body and bringing myself out of my brain. It involved relinquishing conscious control and trusting myself, the process, and those around me. It involved vocalization and the physical sensation of the water in the birth tub. And it involved physical touch, both from my doula and from my husband, especially when he climbed in the tub with me and supported me while my body pushed our son out.

My husband sometimes jokes with me that I can relate anything back to birth. But really, isn’t that where everything starts? I’m just incredibly grateful to have this kind of experience to use as a model for embracing feminine energy.

Yes, As a Matter of Fact, Overanalyzing Things is Quite Fun for Me

Why did I go with my children to two birthday parties today when I’ve just said recently that I don’t want to go to too many parties? My best guess is that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who actively avoids interpersonal contact.

The second party I attended was a grown-ups + kids party. The kids ran around playing while the grown-ups hung out and talked. Many of the attendees were from Spain. My grandfather is from Spain. My dad spoke Spanish with me when I was very young (like up to preschool age). I’ve taken beginning Spanish about five times in my life. I actually speak it fairly well if I’ve had enough alcohol and if the conversation takes place only in the present tense and uses no slang. Because I didn’t drink alcohol tonight, I didn’t attempt to speak Spanish until the car ride home when I sang (and then translated) Spanish songs with my daughter and my husband.

I think the main reason I don’t ever seem to learn Spanish is that I’m too embarrassed to speak it with people who actually know it. And speaking Spanish with people who don’t know the language, while it may sound impressive to them, doesn’t really help me to improve my Spanish. Neither does only speaking Spanish to native Spanish speakers while I’m drunk.

I’m also afraid of not being understood and of not understanding what others are saying. This is also a big reason I’ve never left the country (except for a high school band trip to Toronto, which barely qualifies, I suspect). I don’t like looking silly. Or stupid. But I suppose smiling vacantly on the periphery of an ongoing conversation is probably just as silly-looking (if not more so) than trying to participate in the conversation.

I would like to overcome this fear and actually advance to Intermediate Spanish at some point in my lifetime.

This month is not the month for that, though, because, while Risk Looking Silly is one of my personal commandments, it is definitely not Fun.

It seems I’ve translated “December is Fun Month” into “December is the Month for Not Even Risking Not Having Fun,” which I’m fairly certain is a sure-fire recipe for not having fun. Even things I frequently enjoy aren’t always fun. And things I frequently don’t enjoy aren’t always not fun.

So what the heck am I supposed to do during Fun Month? Do I go with things that I think will be fun but that might not be, or do I go with things that I think won’t be fun but might be?

And why is it I seem incapable of just having fun, rather than analyzing it? Maybe analyzing things is in itself fun for me.

One thing that I did find unreservedly fun today: reading Chapter Two of Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten to my daughter before bed. It was just she and I. The baby was already asleep and my husband was upstairs watching football. My daughter and I snuggled close in her bed and read about newborn Bambi discovering his world, safe and secure at his mother’s side. Now that I reflect on that moment, I remember what’s coming in the story, and I’m feeling a little nervous about how my daughter is going to react to the less idyllic parts of the book. But the moment itself I enjoyed immensely.

It’s almost like a metaphor for motherhood. There are these special times of closeness during which I get to share in my children’s innocent discovery, which are made all the more sacred by the knowledge that, not long from now, the veil of innocence will be lifted from my children’s eyes, and they’ll see not only the wonders in the world but also the horrors. And I can do nothing to stop this from happening.

Maybe for me, something isn’t fun unless I’m aware of the shadow side of the activity. It’s like that little teaspoon of lemon juice in the blueberry sauce, breaking the sweetness just enough that it’s even more enjoyable.

December is Fun Month!

Finally, time for a little fun! Not only is December all about parties and celebrations, but it’s also my birth month. All of my life, I’ve looked forward to December only to have it pass by before I’d even had a chance to notice it. As part of my Happiness Project, I decided to try to remedy that by focusing the entire month around “fun.” Of course, this is Me-Style Fun, which is pretty low-key and introverted, but how much fun would I actually have if I tried to have someone else’s fun? I remember reading a cousin’s list of holiday parties on her Facebook profile a couple of years ago. It was party after party after party. She was clearly having a blast and loving all of the socializing, but I thought at the time (and still think) that that many parties would be my idea of hell. No exaggeration. Hell. She’d likely think something similar about my comparatively hermit-like lifestyle. That’s totally cool, and good to know as I plan my Fun Month. So, my first criterion: Fun Month will involve a minimum of parties.

Here’s what it will involve:

December 2010 – Fun

Focus: Let myself have a ball.

Set the stage for enjoyment. Back in college, fun involved staying up late and coming home feeling sick and smelling like cigarette smoke, getting two hours of sleep and then heading to class in the same clothes I’d partied in, barely held vertical by large amounts of caffeine. In the intervening years, my definition of fun has changed significantly. I look back nostaligcally at my baccanalian days, but I realize that as I approach my mid-thirties nothing’s fun if I’m sleep-deprived or know I’m going to feel crappy as a result of my frivolities. So I basically want to re-commit myself to the resolutions I’ve already introduced, especially the Mindfulness and Self Care resolutions from August and September, and explore these resolutions as they relate to fun. I’m hoping this gives me the best odds of being able to enjoy whatever it is I’m doing. I’m also hoping it helps me feel less self-conscious about the things that I find enjoyable. Who cares if other people think the things I’m doing are boring as long as I find them fun?

Make time for fun. Each day, I would like to know that I’ve got time earmarked for me to have fun. I spend most of the day doing things that simply need to be done, like feeding my family and overseeing their hygiene. Like it or not, I’m in charge of everyone’s underpants. I will try my best to enjoy underpants management through mindfulness. But I think it will also help if I know that I’ve got 30 minutes (or so) set aside just for what I want to do. If this is reading a novel instead of a nonfiction book about happiness, so be it. If it’s watching the John Adams miniseries I have out from the library while crocheting a scarf and sipping non-alcoholic wine, great. So long as it’s for me and I know it’s coming, I think I will be better able to enjoy those moments that aren’t so universally viewed as “fun,” as the John Adams miniseries is.

And that’s it. Broad strokes, not so measurable, but I think it’s the best approach for me in relation to my quest for fun. If you’d like to review my full Happiness Project schedule, please click the link to the left.

Let the FUN begin!

November: Writing Month Kick-Off!

240/365 National Novel Writing Month begins

Image by owlbookdreams via Flickr

Here I am jumping into November with as much enthusiasm as I can muster! I’m excited for this month’s resolutions, but I’m also greeting them with some trepidation as they’re pretty darned ambitious.

November 2010 – Writing
Focus: Jump start my writing practice and make it a part of my daily routine again.

-Write a Novel. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. Did I know about this before this year? I think I must have. At any rate, I know about it now. One of the biggest hurdles to my writing has always been that pesky inner critic. She shoots down ideas before I can even get them on the page. She’s such a perfectionist that I end up staring at a blank page or an empty screen until I finally just give up and read a book. NaNoWriMo is my attempt to side-step this inner voice. I figure if I set a writing schedule and sit down and write as fast as I can and focus on averaging 1,667 words a day rather than on writing something “good,” I might be able to complete a “Shitty First Draft” (as Anne Lamott calls it in Bird by Bird) before that inner killjoy realizes what’s happening.

-Establish a Daily Writing Schedule. This is the second biggest hurdle to my writing practice. Something is always more important than writing. I recognize that this is largely a reaction to fear of that inner critic (she’s really mean and scary), and I’m hoping that with such a lofty goal as NaNoWriMo to motivate me, I’ll finally figure out how to squeeze in an hour or two of writing each day. I suppose I could always just count the time I spend blogging; in which case, I’m done!

-Facebook Fast. Facebook is the biggest time-suck of my day. It does often add value to my life, but the value I get back is a very small percentage of the time I put into it. The other thing I get back is information overload and a compulsive need to check for updates and comments people have left saying how witty I am, both of which are probably just as damaging as the sucking away of my time. I have my blog set to notify Facebook automatically when I post new entries, but I haven’t figured out how to automatically notify my Imperfect Happiness Facebook Page, so I might allow myself to log in once a day to post the link to my latest blog entry on the Page. If any of you Facebook-and-Wordpress users know how to do this automatically, I’d love some tips. Because I’m not at all sure I can simply sneak into Facebook, update my Page, then sneak back out again without getting sucked in. Also, I will allow myself to reply via e-mail to comments friends make on my profile and links and to messages they send, so if you’re a FB Friend and see me commenting, don’t get your panties in a bunch thinking I’ve broken my fast so soon. I’m just circumventing the spirit of the fast via e-mail, not breaking the rules per se.

I’ll also try to keep my resolutions from August, September, and October, perhaps without quite so much intense decluttering. If you’d like to see my full Happiness Project Schedule, please click the link to the left.

Compromising with Gravity

Last night I followed two of my commandments: Risk Looking Silly, and If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Poorly.

First I side-stepped my inner perfectionist by finally framing and hanging all of the prints I had made and the kids’ birth samplers that my aunt cross-stitched. We have a dentist we like, a place to service our car, hikes we love, farmers we know by name, and now I’ve hung photographs, which means we’ll probably move out of state within the year, given our history. If I find a church I like, it’ll be even sooner. (That reminds me, I had a dream that I tried out a church downtown, and they showed up the next day and mowed my lawn and poured us a new driveway. I thought, “Wow, what a great way to get visitors to continue attending!”)

But back to the topic of this post:

In the evening, I attended an Anti-Gravity Yoga class with some friends for our monthly “Ladies Night.”

For those unfamiliar with Anti-Gravity Yoga, it was developed by Christopher Harrison (a Utah native who now lives in New York City), and involves hammocks hung from the ceiling in which the practitioners sit, wrap themselves, swing, and flip, and out of which, with any luck, they do not fall.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog (and/or if you know me in person), you may have guessed that I’m not much of a thrill seeker. There were a number of things I wasn’t interested in trying in the class last night. I didn’t really enjoy the swinging part and was tentative about the flips. The fabric of the hammock kind of cut into the meat of my thighs and hips, which was uncomfortable and not really something I needed to see reflected in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. But there were some stretches, like downward-facing dog, a variation on pigeon, and warrior 1, that were greatly enhanced by the support of the hammock. The shoulder/heart openers were quite intense, in a good way. My abs and back muscles are quite sore today, which is a little surprising because I didn’t realize I was working my core that much. And man, savasana in a hammock was about the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done.

I was fairly impressed with my willingness to be a little adventurous and try out this new activity. My husband asked what I thought of it when I got home, and I couldn’t really come up with a succinct answer. I don’t generally like things I’m not automatically good at. I’m aware of this and adjust for it in my thinking, so it’s not surprising that my opinion about Anti-Gravity Yoga is nuanced. I think it would take attending 3 or 4 classes before I could say for sure whether it’s something I enjoy or not.

But I definitely enjoyed getting together with friends and meeting new people. If I’m going to hang upside-down with my feet hooked in a sling, I’d much rather do it in a room full of people I know than in a room full of strangers.

Gratitude and the Modern Homemaker

Young Housewife, Oil on canvas. The Russian Mu...

Young Housewife by Alexey Tyranov (Image via Wikipedia)

In Ariel Gore’s Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness is a chapter entitled, “if you’re hokey and you know it, clap your hands,” in which Gore explores the idea of gratitude, its effectiveness in improving mood, and why it’s sometimes so difficult to express.

Apparently, there are studies that have shown that keeping a gratitude journal for six weeks can increase happiness and reduce depressive symptoms. Results could be seen in as little as three weeks. Trouble is, expressing gratitude can feel uncomfortable, childish, and hokey, as Gore experienced when she tried to keep her own gratitude journal.

Gore presents two possible reasons for this hokieness. First, for many of us, our primary experience with expressing gratitude was as children when we wrote thank-you notes that may or may not have been sincere to relatives for gifts we may or may not have liked. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing thank-you notes, but many of us are stuck in that idea that saying thank you is something childish and sometimes disingenuous. Doing so as adults can feel insincere, even when it is sincere.

The other explanation Gore suggests is that in order to express gratitude, we must admit that we’ve depended on someone for something. As Americans, we value self-reliance over pretty much anything else. Admitting dependence by thanking someone is in conflict with the view of ourselves as self-reliant. Gore writes about her experience as a single teen mom. Everyone around her was waiting for her to fail, and she became determined not only to succeed, but to succeed without anyone’s help. “A relationship based on someone’s idea that he or she was going to rescue me, I decided, was worse than no relationship at all,” Gore remembers.

As a stay-at-home mom, I make no money of my own and am dependent upon my husband’s income. My husband has a Ph.D. and is gainfully employed full-time as a scientist, both things that easily fall within the range of activities that are recognized by our culture as “valuable.” My job—caring for and educating our children—is not really recognized in our culture as a valuable activity, at least not in the same way that my husband’s job is. He can publish results, he gets a performance review, he can quantify his contribution to his organization. There aren’t many measurable results I can show for my work. I can’t think of any at this moment.

We’re both prone to looking at “going to work” as his job and “everything else” as my job. Doing “everything else” is beyond my abilities, but I still labor under the illusion that I am—or should be—self-reliant in my role. When the house isn’t clean and dinner isn’t made and the children and I aren’t in a sunny mood when my husband gets home, I feel like I’m not holding up my end of our arrangement. He is great about helping me, but I have trouble thanking him for his help because it would be admitting that I’m doubly dependent on him, not only for financial support but also for help doing “my job.” I don’t feel grateful to him; I feel beholden to him.

But this is just how I view our situation in my darker moments. In reality, there isn’t “his job” and “my job.” In fact, except for the part of his work that results in a paycheck, it’s not about “jobs” at all. We are working as a team to meet the needs of our family as a whole. We each have a vocation and an avocation that contributes to the welfare of our family. His vocation is his career, on which he spends the bulk of his time and for which he happens to receive a paycheck. His avocation is working around the house and caring for the children, reading The Economist magazine, watching football, and running. My vocation is caring for and educating the children and working around the house. My avocation is writing, reading, and volunteer work. As my children get older, I expect the balance between my vocation and my avocation to shift until their positions are reversed. From this perspective, he’s not “helping me” by working around the house and caring for the kids; he’s contributing to our family. In the same way, I’m not “helping him” by making it possible for him to work towards his career. Who makes money and who doesn’t really doesn’t figure into it.We are each making space for the growth of our family through the growth of each member as an individual. I don’t need to thank him for helping me; I can thank him for the ways in which he supports our family. With any luck, our kids will grow up with this sense of cooperation and mutual respect.

At the end of the chapter, Gore shares a statement that she taped to the front of her gratitude journal: “I can take care of myself AND I can rely on others.” I would go one step further and say, even as I take care of myself, I am relying on others. Purchasing food, driving my car, even flushing the toilet, there is nothing I do that doesn’t involve other people at some point in the process. I can either admit my dependence on others and feel grateful to be part of a larger system, or I can insist on my self-reliance and cut myself off from relationships with those with whom I interact, directly and indirectly.

I started out this post with the intention of talking a little about gratitude, why Ariel Gore thinks it’s a problem for some people, why I think it’s a problem for myself, and then soliciting feedback from others about the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. I enjoy when my journey takes me through territory that wasn’t on the map.

I still would like your feedback, though. What’s your experience with gratitude? What feelings arise for you when you express gratitude? Have you kept a gratitude journal? Do you feel hokey saying, “thank you”?

Maybe It’s Working?

I went to a step aerobics class last night.

Last night was the second class I’ve taken in 7+ years, when I used to take step classes twice a week at the gym at work. Back in the day, I loved step classes; they were the only time in my life that I’d ever felt coordinated (well, except for high school marching band). But the first class back after that long hiatus was pretty humbling. I couldn’t understand the instructor’s cues. (Did he say “sit down pongo”? What the heck is that? Mambo step pivot straddle, 180 over, exit to the back? Is that even possible?)  I especially had trouble on turns. For some reason, I always ended up facing everyone else in the class. I spent much of the time comparing myself to the other steppers. The woman in front of me never missed a step. The woman behind me looked lost a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I did. I started to feel frustrated and angry. When the class was over, I considered never going again.

But the time I had available to work out last night coincided with the time of the step class, so I decided to give it another go now that I’d had a week and a half of mindfulness. I still got lost. I still found myself face-to-face with everyone else in the class after at least half of the turns. But about halfway through I realized: I was happy! I wasn’t just tolerating the class. I was actively enjoying myself. I was even smiling. Embarrassment still found me several times, but the fact that I was happy at all was pretty remarkable.

I know it’s way too soon to conclude anything about the roll mindfulness may or may not have played in my uncharacteristic enjoyment of an activity in which I did not, to say the least, excel, but I found it encouraging that I had such a positive emotional response.

I wonder what need was being met in that moment. I was doing better than in the first class, so perhaps that met my need for competence or growth. One of the things I was really loving was moving to the rhythm of the music, so maybe there was some rhythmic need that was met. It certainly met my need for physical exercise. And I met two of my commandments in that class, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly,” and “Risk looking silly.”

Not only that, but I took the kids to the park today and didn’t hate it! I might be on a roll.

Risk Looking Silly

I blame middle school. Before middle school, I remember being fairly confident. Then between 5th and 6th grade we moved from San Diego, California, to Fairborn, Ohio, and with that move, I lost any confidence I might once have had in my understanding of how social interactions work. I worried about looking silly, but the things that were deemed cool — “Smurf trap” bangs, pinch-rolled trousers, spiral perms, those weird pants that were shaped like big triangles of fabric, the points of which fastened at the front of the pants — all looked completely silly (and I couldn’t do my bangs or roll my pants properly, anyway). I just couldn’t figure out how to not look silly because none of the rules were logical. I was also skinny and short, which didn’t help matters, either. The punishment for looking silly was severe and swift. As a result, I acquired a deep sense of self-conscious worry of which I still retain a shadow after all of these years.

Having kids has helped me to shed much of this worry. It is impossible to have an interaction with a toddler without looking silly (or even to bear a child without looking silly, at least if you’re me). For the most part, I find it helpful to just assume that I look like a fool and not worry too much about what people think about it. I’d be lying if I said I’m successful in this endeavor all of the time. I sometimes catch myself talking in a silly voice to the kids or wondering out loud with them what would happen if cats wore pants and I suddenly realize that other adults are around and that I may, in fact, look like an imbecile, and then I feel compelled to pull myself together and act more dignified.

I worry sometimes that being afraid of looking silly holds me back from interacting freely with my children and with other adults, and I’m certain it keeps me from trying new things. I mentioned a few days ago that I don’t ski. It’s not just avalanches that scare me about skiing. I’m fairly certain I’ll look like a total dweeb doing it, and I just can’t risk that level of ineptitude without a lot of forward-planning and deep breathing. I like to be good at things. I like to appear knowledgeable and capable at all times. Trying new things doesn’t fit well with these desires. I think a fear of looking silly is also what keeps me from speaking foreign languages. I pick them up quickly, but I lose them quickly, too, because I’m so worried about looking silly trying to speak them, especially with native speakers, even though I know this is the best way to learn short of traveling overseas. Which is something else a fear of looking silly keeps me from doing (that and a fear of physical discomfort, illness, and foreign bugs and other wildlife).

So, I’ve made Risk Looking Silly one of my personal commandments to help give myself permission to look foolish and to let myself try new things. I’d considered just making it “Look Silly,” but I don’t think I need to go out of my way to look silly, just accept that it’s going to happen and try not to worry about it. I think having a public blog is evidence that I’ve already made some progress in this area. I wonder how many more years of practice it will take for me to finally get a passport…