August 12, 2011

Letting Go of Perfection: One Tiny Step

On my path of continued personal development -- no, really, stop laughing! -- I'm making an effort right now, like a fellow friend of mine, to let go of imperfection. I bought a book, I'm journal-ing and I'm attempting to process the hang-ups that give me that "deer in headlights" look as I scramble to do every task, for every project, in every aspect of my life, 100 percent up to snuff -- or, perhaps even 150 percent (you know, to make it truly special).

As I journey, I wanted to share one small hang-up: The need to send mail from my own ZIP code. That's right: Letters, notes, checks from me to you, dear readers, loved ones and processing centers, get stuck in my laptop bag because I get to work, go to drop them in our outgoing mailbox and then think, "Wait! I should send these from closer to home, so they'll get stamped with the right ZIP code." The mail then goes back into my bag and accompanies me home, where a vicious cycle begins: I promptly forget to drop the envelopes nearby, find them in my bag the next day at the office and then begin the process again, sometimes repeating several days in a row.

As if any of you -- the people who read my notes, call to thank me for birthday cards or cash my checks -- actually gave a thought to where, exactly, my correspondence originated.

Today, I've made a commitment to break this one tiny vicious cycle. When I arrived at the office this morning, I took my letters straight out of my bag, sealed them up and walked them over to the outgoing mailbox. Sure, the ZIP code will be one digit off from mine -- but the timing will be all right. And in the case of mail, that's often what truly matters.

That's one small step for sanity -- and, I'm hoping, one giant step toward self-acceptance.

August 8, 2011

An Honest Account of the Week's News

I came up with a tough challenge for myself tonight: Writing about the week's happenings, with honesty, no judgments and no self-pity. No wallowing. Then I watched this brave gal's video, which was a great way of putting my trouble's in perspective. Perhaps I don't need to describe the week's perceived injuries.

I am, after all, married to a wonderful man, living in an amazing city, employed by a top company -- and, as I write this, listening to somewhat terrible live saxophone music floating up from the street tunnel below. I'm humbled by my ridiculously lovely circumstances -- when I only take a moment to look around and recognize them.

For a few weeks, I've been wallowing around in a bit of self-pity. Despite my best attempts, I let myself get thrown for a loop by a few events I viewed as happening to me, rather than adventures I participated in -- had a the great freedom to decide to participate in. I let myself become the emotional victim of my circumstances, rather than taking a deep breath, recognizing each situation and, not rolling with it, but embracing and molding it as best I could.

Tonight, after 31 days of self-loathing, self-pity, self-reproach, I'm declaring an end -- at least a temporary one. Come hell or high water, I will find a way, for these next four days, to deal with myself and my emotions in a kind, calm matter. I will take time to breath. I will embrace reality and channel the feelings that often scare me -- confusion, stupidity, guilt. I will now cower, I will not stuff emotions into boxes, I will not freeze up. I will recognize, I will catalog, I will process.

If I make it to Saturday, I get to have one giant ... latte? Ice cream cone? Hike? Who knows, but a fitting reward.

This won't be the only time in my life I have to do this. It's in my nature to sulk -- not to make excuses, it just is -- but I don't want to be controlled by it. My friend Judy's 15 minute pity party seems about apropos of most situations in my life.

It's only through shrinking this sad internal party that I'm going to be able to move away from resultant, sulky, lazy demeanor that's been hovering for a month. Let's get right down to it.

Christmas in August: Summer in San Francisco

I sometimes strongly dislike summer in San Francisco. It's not the weather itself that gets me down, though I do appreciate the occasional trip to a sun-drenched, warmth-radiating park somewhere outside the city to reminder me that this is the season of breaks from school, barbecues and trying to cool off. No, it's that summer here, with its low-hanging clouds reflecting the light in such a soft, white hue, reminds me of Christmas at home.

And it's not Christmas at home, per se, that tugs my heart into a funk. It's that Christmas just isn't what it used to be. Time was that the reflections of the fog might have made me giddy with expectation of the festive season five or six months forward, with its baked-apple-scented craft fairs, its Johnny-Mathis-crooning record players, its red-and-green-foiled-wrapped packages under earthy, ornament-laden pine trees. I've always loved those parts of Christmas -- and I hope I always will, though wonder seems to fade with each passing year. But Christmas now comes also with a snack-plate-sized helping of heartache, a missing of things that weren't and now won't be, and with an overall shroud of gloom, along the lines of the sadness brought by the mention of "he-who-must-not-be-named" in the last Harry Potter books.

Since my grandfather passed away three years ago, Christmas -- and, for me, Christmas-in-August, a.k.a. summer in San Francisco -- has been several levels of tough. There's the absence he leaves behind, of course. That uniting voice, the one everyone looked to, the one secretly keeping family members in line, gatherings running like clockwork, food on the table and presents in stockings for the first 26 years of my life. There's also the absence of a full-family Christmas, something I'd always dreamed of but will never have: grandparents, parents, aunt and uncle, brother, self and all significant others of the youngest generation, all under one roof together. It just wan't meant to be.

More presently painful, though, is the family rift that's broken out. After years of daily phone calls -- and, after my grandfather's death, near-daily visits -- two of my closest family members had the kind of fight that leads to vows of silence. They haven't spoken in two years. Trips home now can be a careful dance, something I imagine kids with divorced parents go through: Saturday afternoon at one house, Sunday morning at another, trying to squeeze in a half-hour visit here, all while trying to prevent any feelings of neglect. Gone are the large, beer-soaked gatherings; there's no pick-up baseball games, no penny poker games. It's still nice to be home -- but visits are quiet, with unspoken questions and tensions hiding just below the surface.

In San Francisco, thousands of miles away, I can escape this heart-tug on most days. I can sink myself into my work, a hike, a new movie, a great meal. That is until that fog rolls in and I start waking up, not to lazy August sunshine and dreams of one last trip to the beach, but to hazy carol-tinged memories of what was and longings for memories that won't be.

August 7, 2011

Until May, I wasn't the biggest fan of yoga's triangle pose.

For those not familiar, the triangle pose creates not one but several triangles, with the body's arms and legs held quite straight and pivoted at geometric angles. Imagine placing your feet a yard or so apart and pointing your right toes out to the side. Now hold your arms up straight at your sides, and look to the right. Lean forward, and when you've leaned as far as you can, drop your right arm down to bisect your leg and raise your left arm toward the sky, windmill-style, to keep the line straight.

(Now just look at all those triangles you've made!)

This pose does not require an undue amount of skill. After all, it's not standing on one's head, or balancing nearly upside down, such as in a dragonfly pose. But my muscly calves hinder my flexibility when it comes to straight-leg poses --or so I tell myself -- and as I dislike failure, I've had lots of uncomfortable memories associated with triangle.

That was, until I started doing yoga in a cathedral.

Living in a city blesses me with many opportunities, and not the least of late is that a cathedral in my neighborhood offers donation-based yoga, once a week, inside its sanctuary. That's right: On the cold stones where San Francisco's religious residents and tourists alike trod day in and day out, seeking quietude, blessings, absolution, my friends and I have been upward- and downward-dogging, often dressed in what might pass for pajamas, barefoot, sometimes sweating.

It's an unholy of holy experiences.

I still feel a bit uncomfortable in a spandex tank top in a space I had recently associated with Advent, Christmas, Palm Sunday -- with my best clothes, with modesty, with proper behavior and decorum. And I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that, since I started doing yoga on the labyrinth, I haven't been to a single Sunday service. For better or worse, my 90 minutes on the floor of the sanctuary now seems to substitute for the 90 minutes I once spent in the pews. Is this what church should be about?

Despite my small discomforts on the rights and shoulds, however, the class has been an eye-opening experience -- not the least big of which comes poses like triangle. As previously mentioned, I've not always had reason to look forward to the twists, to obeying the command to pretend I'm bending between two pieces of glass. Now, however, I get to look up from those poses, each time, at a new bit of stained glass, concrete blocks and candles, with a new angle of light, a new sense of wonder.

I saw my first blue-tinged stained glass windows in high school, when I was part of a singing group that got to travel to Mercersburg Academy, a local private school, for an event. To me, stone-walled sanctuaries like the Mercersburg chapel, with jeweled windows, footsteps echoing and lots of hushed voices, were places to get married, places where God's presence could be felt, places full of soaring music. At least, that's how they looked in The Sound of Music.

Over the years, I've had occasion to visit many chapels and cathedrals, from the U.S. to India to France, full of the trappings I so admired as Maria Von Trapp, played by Julie Andrews, walked down the aisle. Each has had a slightly different feel, but none so far has failed to produce in me that small sense of awe I've harbored all my life.

Doing triangle pose at Grace Cathedral is an unusual way of experiencing that awe, but it's also refreshing. Twisted into virtual knots, with my head, eyes, gaze at odd angles, I get a chance to see snippets of the whole, a quick take on something that might otherwise become stale in my mind, become something I take for granted. If for that reason alone -- to see the world from a new vantage, however strange and limited in scope -- I'm glad to be a little unorthodox.