The only place I ever got really lost while I was traveling abroad, was in Montpellier, France. It was November 1st, known as La Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day and I would be leaving that morning for Barcelona. Knowing that it was a holiday, and that I hadn’t booked a ticket yet, it was crucial that I leave for the station early that morning and get on the first train out, which was at 6:00am. That morning, I woke up late, wearing the same clothes that I had been wearing for the last 36 hours, hoisted the 15 kg backpack onto my shoulders, and jumped out the door. I was half asleep, half hung-over, and only half sure of where I was going. The train station was said to be about a ten minute walk from the flat and I recalled vaguely where it might be. I started walking in the direction that I thought it was, and remembered someone telling me about a “shortcut”, which was to walk along the tramway. So that’s what I did. Ten minutes turned into twenty, twenty into thirty, and so on. I felt like someone was adding iron weights to my backpack with every unfamiliar pass. Just shy of 6am, I had been walking for about 45 minutes and I was exhausted. I knew that I was nowhere close to the station and that I was not going to make that train. There were no people or cars or open shops anywhere in sight, just the harsh and hazy morning sun beginning to penetrate my dried and bleary eyes. I was utterly lost. I looked around, took off my pack in an act of indignant abandon, sat down next to a trash can and pondered through my tears, “What now?!”.
I feel lost like that again, being back in the States– directionless and dejected on the empty streets. Nobody is pointing me in any particular direction, but I’m still carrying my heavy backpack weighted down by the memories and experiences of my past, and I’m pretty sure I missed my train somewhere way back there. I’m looking for my way, but I can’t seem to see beyond the shadow of my own face. I think what I am experiencing now is the unavoidable period of let-down that comes after any mind-blowing experience; reality comes screeching in like a bird being captured and crammed back into a cage. I’m left wondering what happened to my direction, my momentum, my inspiration? The dullness begins to set in.
As a longtime yoga practitioner and experienced instructor, I am well aware that there is an inevitable dullness that can come from doing the same thing over and over again. That is the nature of yoga- to repeat and repeat until the movement becomes effortless, and the effort is then turned inward towards the breath and eventually towards the mind. Unfortunately, one hindrance of repetition is that one is apt to fall victim to boredom. In the times that I see my students growing listless with the glaze of apathy towards yet another Virabhadrasana, having done it over a thousand times in the lifetime of their practice, I remind them to SOMEHOW find a sense of newness to each pose, to find a freshness in the practice– which is much easier said than done! I find myself now chewing through the last remnants of an allegorical stale doughnut, desperately trying not to be overcome by that same sticky glaze I see creeping into the eyes of my students from time to time. I’m finding it difficult to see the novelty in each moment, especially when my eyes feel like they’ve been glued shut by the viscous monotony of familiarity. After all, familiarity breeds contempt, right? After this many years as a yogi, I should have the tools to pull myself out of the muck.
I started waking up at 5:30am and for the first time in my life, I have taken up a consistent, if not daily, meditation practice. It’s working, in so far as it’s getting me up in the morning with something to focus on besides that hangnail that’s been bothering me, or making elaborately frivolous to-do lists with things on it like “buy matches”, “open mail” and “drink water”. But instead of meditating on cultivating contentment and appreciation for my current set of circumstances (like any good yogi or meditator would do), and trying to find a sense of liveliness within the deep predictability of my life in Chico , I instead find myself hatching an escape plan. This is in itself a destructive force, because I know that any time I allow my mind to move hastily into planning, it just takes me further and further away from the present moment. It is yet another distraction from the awkward and uncomfortable reality of just sitting still. Our minds are very clever and will create any reason at all to jump up and run away. For me, practicing simply sitting through the discomfort and watching my mind making plans to “escape” has given me the opportunity to observe my desire to be somewhere else. My meditation practice has been helpful in allowing me to see that sitting still might actually be the most valuable and necessary thing for me to do right now, in order to see my path and my direction more clearly.
I’ve come to terms with my discontentment. Rather than to resign myself to the doldrums, I’ve used it to create a feedback loop to help me see what in my life is working and what isn’t, what inspires me and what doesn’t, what is in balance and what is out of balance. The feeling of being lost, uninspired, and directionless, in the past, has been precisely what propelled me into the next phase of my life, and that unsettled feeling in my heart is a familiar indication that there are some major shifts taking place inside of me. It’s uncomfortable, yes, and at times exhausting, but I’m certainly not running away from it this time. What good would that do anyway when I don’t even know where I am or where I am going? So, I’ve decided that for now, I’ll simply sit down, unload some baggage, wait for my eyes to clear up, and then get back on that train when it arrives.
“Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.”