It’s not always the big changes that whack you sideways. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much at all.
This week, I tried out a new gym class called “Core Essentials.” I expected we’d be doing sit-ups and other nasty abdominal work, the kind of workout that’s standard in the gym world. To my surprise, however, the class was led by a graceful and obviously accomplished male dancer, and the work involved a lot of dance moves and balance. Not my strengths.
I clunked my way through it, overheated and a little flustered. I wobbled on one leg as we swung our other leg through space while swaying our arms “gracefully” above our heads. We flung ourselves into arabesques and dropped into plies. We rose from deep knee bends to perch on our toes. George, our instructor, was the picture of grace. I felt like the dancing hippo in Fantasia. (Actually, the dancing hippo was a lot better than I was.)
But now, as I get more new experiences under my belt, I can start to generalize about this world of new.
Approaching these new situations, even the small ones, makes me anxious. It takes a bit of a mental shove to get me going. I’ve mentioned before that I think we get out of practice at being beginners when we graduate out of childhood and assume our status as competent adults. We don’t want to look stupid. We don’t want to lose face. Taking chances is not what we do. Each week, I have to give myself a little talking-to before I jump into a new situation.
This week’s experience also reminded me of a snippet from a motivational talk I heard years ago. I couldn’t tell you now the subject of the talk. The sound bite I remember is, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” The speaker’s point was that we make choices in our lives. We aren’t gifted with unlimited time and energy. As we invest in developing our expertise in one area, we forego other options. An extreme example is the Olympic athlete, who spends so many hours every day honing her skills. She makes a choice, and as a result there may not be room in her life for much else.
Although I do envy instructor George (and some of the other graceful souls in his class), they have probably spent years practicing dance skills and have muscle memories that I can only dream of. I will keep going to this class because I think developing good balance is important, and I’m a little shocked by how poor mine seems to be. I expect I will stumble and wobble and curse under my breath, but that’s okay too. I’ll add this to my list of new experiences and move forward, without having any expectation that professional ballet is in my future.
So what if I looked like a deranged dancing hippo? No one was paying attention to me anyway. They were all trying to get their own legs pointed in the right direction. I got a fine workout and I was once again reminded that there are many, many things I’m not good at. It’s an important reminder.
So far, no matter what the outcome, I’ve enjoyed a little thrill of accomplishment after every experience. I feel a bit more alive, as if I’m edging my way back into the world.
Grieving isn’t a linear process. I know I’m moving forward, but there are still days when the reality of my loss slays me. This last week, I could feel the dark abyss looming behind me. I was missing Mark and feeling very sorry for myself. As an experiment I decided to make a deliberate effort to break out of my dark place. I marched myself down to my local coffee shop, bought myself a frothy coffee, and took out a notebook. For an hour, I scribbled, as fast as I could, a list of things for which I’m grateful.
At the end of the hour, I had 115 far-ranging notations of gratitude, including the cheerfulness of hummingbirds; fresh salmon, tart blueberries, and very dark chocolate; my sister-in-law’s prayers; nice gel pens; Mary Oliver’s poems; and of course, having been fortunate enough to have 30 years with Mark. Little things and important things and silly things.
Half way through the hour I found myself grinning. So many reasons to be happy. And of course it’s not an exhaustive list. As I walked home (still smiling, I think), I was mentally ticking off new reasons to be grateful: the feel and smell of slick wet clay in the pottery studio, an auto mechanic that I trust, Rusty’s goofy dog grin…
Meditation practices often incorporate gratitude into their repertoire. However, I am a terrible meditator. Controlling my “monkey mind”—the term yogis use for the continuous mental chatter that fills our heads—is very difficult for me. But somehow, this simple act of listing so many positive aspects of my life led me right into a happy place.
I don’t give advice to other people about grief and recovery. I’m not qualified to do that. I’m working through my own grief as best I can, with the help and support and love of those who care about me. I think our paths through grief may have common elements, but each journey is unique too. But today I’ll make an exception: I found this exercise, this consciously taking just an hour to reflect and record what makes me happy, to be very powerful. If you’re feeling a little low, it might be worth giving this a try.