My most helpful thought

Last week I found myself rolling back and forth on the ground with a bunch of giggling asian women.  I was in my kundalini yoga class at the YMCA.  We were doing an exercise where we put our hands out in front of us, superman-style, while lying on our stomachs, then we turned to the right until we were on our backs, then back to center/stomach, then to the left.  As I rolled back and forth on the floor with these giddy women, I thought, I live such a rich life! 

One year ago I was entrapped in the agony of my thoughts.  I was just beginning to question whether my thoughts were really true.  But I still had so many to sort through.  It felt like every waking moment was thought-thought-thought-thought, one after another.  I was starting to question them but I still had so many.  There were the thoughts, and then there were the thoughts that were judgments of the thoughts, and then there were some judgment thoughts of those thoughts.  My brain and my ego were really running wild.  And it became untenable.  So I started some intense work on watching and then dismantling my thoughts. 

This brought me into the most disorienting season of my life to date.  I spent almost all of October separated from my son.  He was traveling with his dad for two weeks.  Then, the week I was supposed to have him was interrupted when I got a stomach flu that was so severe I couldn’t care for him.  I had to ask his dad to come pick him up.  I entertained him with TV for much of the day, while I laid in bed without any energy.  I remember at dinnertime he asked me for something to eat.  It took me about five minutes to raise myself from the bed and into the kitchen to pull something out of the fridge for him.  I have experienced this kind of decimation before, but never as a mother and never alone.  

After the stomach flu, I went to NIH for my ten days of testing.  The writing saved me.  I set a goal to blog every day and it pulled me through those days of isolation.  For the first time I allowed myself some introspection on the NIH experience.  I challenged myself to stay open and to find connection there.  And I shared it on my blog which helped me feel slightly less alone during the cold October days.  

The days between NIH and February run together in my memory.  I remember early mornings, where I would wake before the sun, unable to remain in bed.  I walked a lot.  On the days I didn’t have R, I would put on my headphones and room my neighborhood early in the morning listening to Brandi Carlile and Oprah Super Soul podcasts.  I lost weight.  I felt excoriated.  I heard Mark Nepo describe it that way and it felt precise to my condition.  My physique and my spirit were polished away to the essential elements.  And as Cheryl Strayed put it so eloquently, I floated like a rabid ghost through those days and weeks.  

I learned that R would be going on vacation with his dad in February.  With the ghost of the previous October breathing down my neck, I booked a trip to Hawaii to occupy most of R’s vacation days.  I had been studying Mary Oliver’s work prior to the trip and I spent that my time in Hawaii focusing on the present moment.  Nature has a way of pulling me into the present, and I let that heal me.  I returned feeling revitalized.  I vowed to reinvest in regular exercise.  I was also eating a banana with Nutella every day to help with my stress calorie deficit.  

After Hawaii, life kind of crashed back onto me.  I clung fiercely to my commitment to stay open to the good that was available to me.  I walked, I lifted weights, I played with R.  I was trying to stay open at work, which made work increasingly heavy.  I was losing patients to drug addiction and strange accidents.  I was attempting to shepherd heroin addicts toward feeling their feelings.  I was open to all of the pain and it almost swallowed me.  Then I wandered into a kundalini yoga class by accident. 

I had begun to seek out a more spiritual yoga practice.  So when I saw the instructor with her colorful mandala scarf laid out on the floor and the battery-powered candles, I was open.  In the first class I met the true version of myself.  My therapist asked me to name her but all I could come up with was Michelle because she seemed like the purest version of me.  I envisioned her as I went through the exercises, this open, playful, loving, interesting creature.  I kept coming back to kundalini because I wanted to see her again.  I wanted to know her better, this person who had been buried inside of me. 

In kundalini, I saw metaphors for joy and pain and trial and play and boundaries and kindness.  The practice opened me further but it also taught me to protect myself.  I heard my voice in the chanting and singing.  I felt myself in the movements.  I finally located the sacred place inside of me, the part that god put there long ago, the part that is uniquely wise and kind.

My practice helped me understand my role at work.  I wasn’t supposed be a repository for all of the pain my patients carry.  My job was to identify those who were open and to shine some light their way.  For the rest, medication management would be enough.

My yoga practice helped me find stillness.  My mind became quieter.  I began to watch my thoughts with curiosity.  I got better at identifying the useful ones and noticing the useless ones.  That’s how my original thought was born.  I live such a rich life!  

This thought has carried me through my faith transition, a divorce that is still incomplete, raising a little boy through the terrible two and threenager years, worries about tumors, and opening the part of me that is capable of loving deeply.  

And I think rich is the word for it, because there is so much depth in my life.  So many colors.  So much vibrancy.  Some of it has been penetrating darkness. But I am equally opening to joy. I am a rich woman, indeed.

I made this list of things that have changed in the past year and I’m sharing it with you, with the simple hope that you might reflect on your life in a similar way. Namaste and sat nam. 

  • I’m better aquatinted with myself.
  • I have more trust in myself.  
  • I’ve started dating. 
  • I am getting my first glimpses of how to forgive.
  • I started a spiritual yoga practice.
  • My brain is so much quieter.
  • I opened myself up emotionally to my patients and then had to figure out how to shut that down somewhat. 
  • Eight of my patients passed away. 
  • I started to solo travel.
  • I was more honest with myself and the people around me than ever before. 
  • I kept a toddler alive and relatively happy through the terrible two and threenager years.
  • I started painting and drawing again.
  • I picked up knitting again.
  • I started playing the piano and singing again.
  • I began to understand humility.
  • I began to see the part of god that lives in me.
  • I published 114 blog posts (that’s 112,505 words) and some of you have read every one! 

Shine some light my way. Tell me your thoughts!