Legacy of the POD
By Laura Mills
Back in March, when I decided to put my house up for sale, I loaded a 12 x 6-foot POD with things I figured my daughter and I wouldn’t miss for a few months. The POD was placed in storage somewhere I don’t remember, and honestly, I haven’t thought about it since—except for a brief moment each month when my credit card statement has reminded me about the fee.
I’ve lived in my new house a little over two months now, and I was correct: we haven’t really missed a thing in there. Truthfully, I don’t even remember what exactly is in my POD, other than a rocking chair, a nightstand, holiday decorations, the old crib mattress, maybe a lamp or two, and miscellaneous toys and knick-knacks. It’s been kind of nice, actually, having an amorphous place like “storage” in which to hide these things that I wanted to keep yet can obviously live without. Also, it’s been comforting to be able to assume that anything still unaccounted-for waits for us there. (“Where are those jeans? Oh, they must be in the POD, in storage.”)
Yet I can’t go on paying the monthly fee forever, so I’ve arranged for my POD to arrive home next week. I’m nervous, as I’m still in the process of unpacking all the boxes the movers delivered back in July. What in the world am I going to do with all that additional stuff? I’ve had visions of me not even opening the POD, of instead selling it to the highest bidder sight-unseen with a wish for peace and happiness. It’s tempting. But more than likely I’ll unload it all into my garage. I’ve promised myself that I’ll comb through the items and weed out again…. But determining what I don’t need and then purging are two different beasts; letting go is, I know, harder—a lot harder—than just thinking or saying I’ll do it.
By Laura Mills
If there’s one lesson I’ve had hammered into my brain in the last few years, it’s that almost nothing in this world is one-hundred-percent certain. Even with the best-laid plans and the most-organized calendars—even with the most-sincere promises—almost nothing is absolutely guaranteed. Life’s unreliability is what brought me to yoga in the first place; if everything up to that point had worked out as planned, I wouldn’t have sought physical and emotional healing in the first place. It was strange irony that what brought me down led me directly onto the mat that raised me up….
….BECAUSE, it was on the mat that I discovered the one thing in this world that IS one-hundred-percent certain. I discovered the one thing in which I can place my trust without fear or even thought of disappointment: my breath. As long as I’m alive, an exhale will follow each inhale, and an inhale will follow each exhale. There may be more or less time in-between depending on what I’m doing—whether I’m practicing vigorous Vinyasa or restorative yoga, for example, or whether I’m sleeping or running—but the pattern of inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale will never change.
As yogis, as a rule, we are taught the importance of the breath. It’s what moves prana, or life energy, through the body, but it is also so much more. It’s the sweet certainty on which I can focus when all else seems up-in-the-air and unstable. It’s the one thing I can keep with me no matter where I go, what I do, or what I plan…or hope…or fear…. It’s the foundation on which I can re-build whatever needs rebuilding, one inhale, one exhale at a time.
Atlas of Yoga
By Laura Mills
Foiled again! Yesterday morning, like clockwork, as soon as I finished my fifth sun salutation my daughter woke up crying. No matter how early I get up and attempt to practice, she knows…. And if it’s not my daughter crying, it’s my cat—sitting on my mat, weaving through my arms and legs, meowing until my daughter wakes up. Or else it’s the laundry…or the messy kitchen…or the bills…. My quest for a workable home practice continues; regardless of my intention, I confess I usually put my home practice last. 8 years a yogi, 5 years a yoga teacher, and I still can’t get the home practice quite right.
Some days I feel lucky if I manage to squeeze in a handful of sun salutations. Most days, no matter how many I’ve squeezed in, I go to bed wishing I had squeezed in at least a few more. I feel heavy, like I’m carrying the weight of my yoga world. I shake my head and chastise myself for not being a more disciplined yogi.
That’s when something inside me whispers, “Put it down.” The weight of my yoga world is heavy, after all—the difference between the yoga I want to do and the yoga I do do seems astronomical. But I remind myself that this “burden” isn’t really a burden at all, but instead the trimmings of a life in which I’m doing the best I can to fill many roles. Time will pass, the roles will evolve…and so will my home practice. Maybe squeezing in a few sun salutations every day—or every few days—is perfect for me in this moment. One way or another, I will find my way and end up in the place that’s right for me. In the meantime I will keep going, finding little bits of success in the effort along the journey.
The Impermanence of Perfect
By Laura Mills
No fingerprints smear the mirrors; no lumps wrinkle the bed. No lint litters the carpet. The laundry, dishes, and toys are put away. I can even navigate my way through the garage without stepping on anything. This place is pretty near perfect—but I must admit, perfection unsettles me.
I had to impress if I hoped to sell my house. Prospective buyers want to see the counters, floors and other features clearly; they want to be able to picture their own belongings, not someone else’s dirty socks or half-dressed dolls, in the nooks and crannies. And I get that, completely. As a buyer myself, when I’ve looked at prospective homes I’ve wanted the same thing.
But near-perfect is more than just hard—it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard. Time and effort achieve an acute moment of it. But then maintaining it is another feat, one that requires constant vigilance. It’s so, so easy to slide from near-perfect toward non-perfect again. The minute the cat misses the litter box, or I forget to straighten the towel, or my daughter spills her cereal…. My attention to one incident allows other incidents to occur, and before long, I’m back to needing more time and effort to rise to near-perfect again.
Which is why, I think, I’ve realized I prefer non-perfect. It’s comfortable, even cozy. Most importantly it’s real. It’s my everyday, on the clock, up-and-down life. Near-perfect is okay for selling a home and buying a new one, but when it comes to present moments—even the messiest and most chaotic ones—non-perfect is perfectly beautiful.
Coffee Shop Dream Collector
By Laura Mills
I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop, but only because no one showed up to class today. These days I hardly ever find myself sitting with only writing to do for an hour or so—case in point: my last blog post was mid-January. Between teaching (when people come, which thankfully is most of the time), mommy-ing, and attempting to rebuild my life after last year’s changes, sitting in a coffee shop, writing, is an artifact of a time long past. Yet here I am today, because no one showed up to class.
Ten years ago this would have been me every day. I hadn’t yet found yoga or hadn’t yet adopted my daughter, and I had left my job as a high school science teacher to pursue my then-dream job of writing. And I even achieved moderate success: I published essays and articles in magazines and newspapers, and I wrote two complete children’s novels and submitted them to publishers. Of course there were the many rejections—including both novels—and the other frustrations, too. But I still felt I had found a “pot of gold” as I worked at what I loved.
I never would have guessed that THIS version of me would be the one sitting in a coffee shop, writing, ten years later.... The yoga, the yoga teaching, the long wait to adopt, the parenthood, the un-asked-for divorce—ten years of joyous highs and devastating lows color the experience of the me who sits here now. Sitting here now because, ironically, my current “pot of gold” didn’t require me today. The glide of the paper below my hand, the cold of the pen in my fingers, the smell of the coffee—these things light up the corners of my being and reveal that I haven’t abandoned my old dream. Instead I’ve built upon it, continuously creating new dreams day by day and moment by moment as life has evolved. And really, even with the lows mixed in among the highs, that’s pretty cool.
I guess as time goes by, with the pursuit of our own dreams and the effects of others’ dreams, we all become more colorful. Which makes sense…isn’t it always a rainbow that leads to the “pot of gold,” after all?
The Truth About Time
By Laura Mills
I admit it: I’m in denial. It should not, cannot possibly be mid-January already. Wasn’t it just Christmas? Some of my decorations are still up. And did I seriously just hear a commercial about taxes? What about my to-do items leftover from 2014…organizing the claim for my car repairs, balancing my checkbook, getting the carpets cleaned, filing away those miscellaneous papers? I refuse, absolutely, to believe we’re halfway through January already….
But I’ve said it before, and I know it to be true now: the calendar on my desk (and the one on my computer, and the one on my phone) doesn’t lie. It is mid-January. And I am overwhelmed. This isn’t a new feeling; actually, I’ve felt overwhelmed with things to do quite often before. After all, the harsh reality of time is that it’s finite—as I’ve been trying to teach my four-year-old lately, we only have so much time and we must make choices as to how we use it (as in, “…you can’t watch TV and play Elsa/Anna and also take your bath all before bedtime.”). I do try to prioritize and focus on what needs to be done NOW at any given moment, but I can only sustain that directed purposefulness so long before my overwhelm returns.
Thankfully, a remedy does exist. Not the kind of remedy that will clean my house, file my papers and pay my bills for me, but rather a remedy that brings me away from overwhelm into peace in spite of my lingering un-accomplished tasks. It’s my memory. I remember I’m a competent, strong person on an incredible journey; I remember that the journey will go on even if I don’t accomplish everything on time; and I remember that while the journey is messy and unpredictable, I always have my breath and my heart to guide me. In fact, to my breath and my heart, time is irrelevant—no matter what’s going on at any given moment I can always breathe, I can always love.
And most of the time, no matter what the calendar says, that’s really only all I need.
"Undo," Not "To Do"
By Laura Mills
It’s easy to put myself last when gift giving. What I give myself is often hardly a gift anyway; stress, that unwelcome yet persistent part of the holidays, sneaks in and gets cozy as I list, decorate, shop, wrap, rush and socialize. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve realized I harbor a certain over-confidence in my ability to manage stress (“Stress? Never! I teach yoga, for goodness’ sake!”); at the end of the most hectic days, I consistently find that the hardest part of stress management is remembering to do it.
Undoubtedly, I keep up with stress management best when I make it a regular part of my day. One habit I’ve developed is just stopping and intentionally breathing—slow and deep, low into my back and belly, and then exhaling completely—for at least a few minutes. I aim to do this just after I wake up, or else just before bed, but sometimes I do it also at my kitchen sink, in my parked car, in line at the grocery store, or any other time I feel stress encroaching in the form of tight shoulders, headache, or a quickening heartbeat. After very little time I notice a difference…at the very least a clearer head with which to approach whatever’s happening in that moment.
Of course, an irony of stress management is that trying to keep up with it might initially cause stress. None of us needs one more thing to do in December, after all…. But stress management, like so many other worthwhile pursuits, is a practice. Therefore it’s something we become more adept at with time. I’ve been approaching it lately not as another “to do” on my list, but rather as a means of undoing the effects of hectic days. I hope you try it, too, for as the days shorten, the nights darken, and the ever-busy holidays approach, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves. At the beginning, try just a little…and then, as you become more comfortable and more regular with it, add a little more. Even a small amount of stress management will make a difference, leaving more space in life for cheer, holiday and beyond.
Squirrel in Reverse
By Laura Mills
I plopped into my car after bringing my daughter to a class. 1pm and I was already beat…. And it hadn’t been that extraordinarily busy of a day so far, either—only that after the craziness of the last few weeks I had lost track of the day and the time and, it seemed, life in general. This day I was lucky to have managed my daughter’s drop-off at the correct time in the appropriate place.
While I stared out the window, catching my breath, a squirrel approached my car from across the parking lot—then appeared on the hood! With a sound like fast raindrops it skittered toward the windshield and then up onto the roof; a moment and a few skitters later, its tail waved down onto the windshield, followed by the rest of its body as the squirrel slid back onto the hood. Then it hustled toward the rearview mirror, and it climbed over and all around it. Stopping just a few seconds to stare into the window at me, it then ran back onto the roof and disappeared into, I think, an overhanging tree.
I laughed. Of course I had never encountered a squirrel so “up close and personal” before…but also because I immediately thought that squirrel could really use some yoga. And, I laughed because that squirrel seriously reminded me of myself. Those jerky movements of head and tail, the constant quivering of nose and whiskers, the non-stop motion of legs in different directions…that had for sure been me during the last few weeks. Now, here I was, alone in my parked car—the perfect opportunity to pause, sit a little taller, relax my shoulders, close my eyes and breathe. And that’s exactly what I did.
"You Make Me Feel So Young"
By Laura Mills
Last week I attended a parent meeting at my daughter’s preschool, where I discovered that learning is based on play. I love this philosophy, that children don’t require anything elaborate or high-tech to learn new skills and make solid connections in their minds. Plain and simple: children succeed by doing what they do best, by doing what they do naturally.
Since then I’ve reflected on how often I ignore the “plain and simple” in my own life. I over-think, over-plan, over-do, over-analyze…. It’s common among human beings, I think, as we rush around to check off the next item on our to-do lists. But yoga teaches that one of the ways we can evolve into harmony (Niyama) is through the practice of simplicity (Saucha). Not that we can or should ignore our obligations—but rather, I believe, that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of a little space in our to-do lists…that we shouldn’t pass up any opportunities to refine our days with a little plain-and-simple play.
What if we approached more tasks as if they were lessons in preschool? The humdrum, everyday things we do might begin to give off a positive glow; the most complicated tasks might lose their capacity to intimidate. We might find ourselves waking up looking forward to our day and even smiling more throughout. As summer ends and we head into fall, as the days get shorter and the nights get darker, and as life rushes on at its often-exasperating pace, I’m going to try the “preschool philosophy.” Come play with me!
By Laura Mills
This summer I’ve done all kinds of neat things—like attend a yoga retreat, spend a weekend downtown as a Chicago “tourist,” install granite countertops in my kitchen, reorganize my basement, master Mandarin Chinese, learn to play the banjo, and drive across the country—in my mind. That is to say I’ve daydreamed over and over that I made these things happen. Some of these things I’ve even wistfully discussed with friends, making them all the more delicious. Yet as of this moment each remains, well…unfinished. Some even remain un-attempted.
Yep, I dream big. I make lists with lofty headings like “Things I Want To Do This Year” and “What I Want to Accomplish.” Yet more often than not the items on my list remain on my list. Even the small steps towards accomplishing those items remain. And when I look at or think about my list, I feel sad and silly for being all talk and no action.
It’s not that I’m lazy or unmotivated…far from it. But I am intimidated.
After all, dreams and goals are scary. Not only do they represent the unknown that lies ahead, but also they require that we muster our abilities to act and follow through. And acting on a dream or goal is hard—it requires energy and acceptance of whatever changes the acting sets off. Following through is even harder—it requires loyalty to the dream or goal, even when circumstances get tough and the desired outcome seems impossible. Frankly, for me, these days I feel quite unenergetic and definitely unwilling to persevere with anything that’s not absolutely necessary.
I don’t believe the solution is to dream less or to dream smaller. Rather, the solution is a rethinking of what’s really necessary. Not a cross-country vacation or the mastering of a new language…but dreaming, itself, is necessary. The wish to do more, see more, be more, know more. As long as we have dreams—even unattainable or unrealistic ones—every breath we take brings more hope to the world. Realistically I may never learn to play the banjo, for example, yet my dreams about it cause the opening of doors in my mind that I didn’t know existed and that very well may lead somewhere amazing. Any open door is hope. And hope never, ever hurts.