This morning I made pancakes for my children.
For some moms, this could be an every day statement. No big deal. For me, it feels like a major victory. It’s probably been a year since I made my children a hot breakfast. Looking at the positive, between their father and me, we’re able to provide food daily for our children, a sign of abundance that far surpasses what most in this world ever experience. But I was born into a First World life. As a parent and recovering perfectionist, I have gradually let go of many of the unrealistic expectations I had for myself before I had children, especially in the last two and half years I’ve spent as a single working mother. Some unknown but very wise individual (not Shakespeare, despite regular attributions) said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache”, and I have definitely found that to be true. Resisting the urge to compare myself to others has been particularly helpful too, although in truth I continue to practice letting go of expectation and comparison daily and probably always will. So much expectation and comparison is connected to this notion that certain ways of being are “normal”. As a teenager I was always trying in the most safe and innocuous of ways to demonstrate my “independence” from what “everyone else” was doing. But when we do what we do to thumb our nose at the norms, we are just as bound by them as if we only do what we do to succumb. Gradually I’m learning to find guidance from within without those filters of expectation and comparison.
This is why my teaching style is so rooted in permission. I feel that my job first and foremost is to create an environment where students can learn within the safety of their own mat what feels right in their own bodies. That doesn’t mean only doing what feels good. I truly believe when given the space and time people will tap into a trust and intuition that that will guide them toward wholeness and wellness. If a person is willing to make the time to listen and feel, there is no avoiding the call to evolve. As part of nature, it’s in our nature.
I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of taking a Journey Ride at Charleston Ride with my inspiring friend Rebecca Young. She presented the cycle of the hero’s path as identified by Joseph Campbell. The place where so many of us get hung up is on the first step of the journey. We hear the call, we feel the discomfort, uneasiness, the sense that something needs to change, that action needs to be taken, but we fear the consequences of the choice to heed the call. We refuse it. Sometimes the universe conspires to hit us over the head until we are willing to cross the threshold, but many of us become so attached to our suffering and our stories as to make them a part of our identity. Once we link body and mind through the yoga practice, once we start listening, it becomes harder and harder to avoid the calls when they come. We must evolve.
What do pancakes have to do with evolution? Well for the last 9 months, I’ve worked every morning, weekends too. I do make my schedule, but I’ve been balancing my schedule with my children and their school and activities, their father and his schedule, along with the needs of my home studios and my fellow instructors. So I picked up classes where I could and I ended up teaching every morning. I love my job, and I made the schedule work. And for the first four or five months it did work. Then I started to say once a week to myself, “I need a morning off”. Then it started happening once a day, “I need a morning off.” They one day I said it out loud. And then I found myself saying it more regularly. Did I do anything about it? Nope. I can be pretty obstinate. Finally after many months of knowing what I needed, I had a very simple conversation and made it happen. Done. And three weeks in to my first month with Sunday mornings off, I made pancakes for my kids – from scratch even – not because I wanted to be fancy, but simply because I don’t keep pancake mix lying around. They were happy, I was happy, and life kept right on rolling by, breath by breath.
I don’t think that making pancakes makes me a hero, nor does asking for the morning off. But I think that learning to listen, feel and respond when I know something needs to shift keeps me on the path. And that’s what keeps me on the mat. The little things in life are often what bring about more change (think of a slight adjustment in the distribution of weight in a yoga pose, for example). The little things in life are often what bring us great joy (i.e.: pancakes) and so often it’s letting go of the little things, making small shifts to move out of fear and toward bliss, that are the biggest victories. Our acts of bravery need not be large or broadcast far and wide to be valuable. Campbell once likened the individual to a blade of grass. He said that the blade of grass grows up every day, despite being cut back two inches every two weeks by the lawn mower. That blade of grass isn’t deterred by the setback. It just keeps growing, and so do we if we can continue to reflect and allow ourselves to be in process. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t need fixing, we just need to keep moving toward the light.
I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to see Finding Joe, a lovely documentary about the hero’s journey. In the film various scholars and other professionals share their take on the path Campbell identified, which is not a straight line or a vertical climb but a circle, a cycle. The last stage on the circle is to return with an “elixir” to help heal others, to encourage and perhaps even inspire. Such is the nature of this kind of sharing, I suppose. Does that make me a hero? Campbell says if we are willing to embrace the journey then we are all the heroes of our own lives. So yeah, I am a hero. And you are too. So we don’t all wear spandex suits and capes (although I’m fully in support of that). We’re more like the little blades of grass, standing side-by-side, a connected collective of individuals. A blade of grass can seem unassuming, but with the right perspective each rooted sprout is poetic. And I think we lose a sense of our own poetic and heroic nature in the day-to-day routine. I’d like to suggest that being heroic isn’t about being big or fancy, it’s about being real. When we support each other’s individual experiences, when we resist the urge to compare as a means of establishing our sense of self-worth, when we expect nothing of ourselves but a courageous commitment to the truth, we are heroes.