By Laura Mills
The other night at dinner, my almost three-year-old pointed straight ahead of her and proclaimed, “My shadow!” I followed her finger and saw an image of her in the side of my glass. I explained to her—as I had done many times when we had looked into mirrors—that what she was seeing wasn’t a shadow, but a reflection.
She blinked at me. “What dat?”
In the past she had just made a face in the mirror and we had moved on. But now, for some reason, she wanted information. I thought for a moment and then explained: when we see a reflection we see a person or thing as it really is, how it really looks, and when we see a shadow we see a person or thing’s dark shape. She seemed to mull this over for a few moments, and then she continued eating, apparently satisfied.
But I wasn’t. The idea of confusing a reflection with a shadow struck me…. My daughter has been very interested in shadows lately, stopping here and there to observe hers or mine, orienting her body so she could see herself walk on my “head” or dance with “herself.” She understands shadows, images we see because our bodies block light coming from the opposite side. But reflections…they’re a more difficult—and more intimidating—concept. We see them because the light bouncing off our bodies hits a surface and then bounces back to our eyes. Where shadows leave room for interpretation and imagination, reflections show it like it is.
I wonder now how many times I’ve confused a reflection with a shadow…my own, someone else’s, or that of a circumstance. In general, as adults I think we believe we know—or tell ourselves we know—what we’re looking at, what we’re dealing with. But after this conversation with my daughter, I’ve been feeling that we might need to pay a little more attention to the workings of the light around us….
Best Costume Ever, Part 2
By Laura Mills
Just after Halloween 2012 I posted a blog that asked why, as human beings, we love disguises so much. With Halloween 2013 just around the corner, I thought at least part of that blog worth posting again….
“[And we disguise ourselves not] only on Halloween—after all, a disguise doesn’t require a mask, whiskers and a tail, or even unfamiliar clothes. However we go about it, we find comfort in fooling others about our identity, in others’ not knowing whom we really are. Think about it…as children, who among us didn’t at one time or another want to be invisible? Then, with time dawned the knowledge that we couldn’t make ourselves disappear, but we could do anything but. Now, short of donning fake fangs or a wig, we devise countless ways of hiding the person we are on the inside. Maybe it’s the tremendous relief from self-consciousness….
“Years ago, when I taught high school science, every October at least one student would ask me about my upcoming Halloween costume. I would always joke, ‘I’m going to be a chemistry teacher.’ Today, I see the actual seriousness of that statement. The most difficult disguise to wear is no disguise at all. Appearing as the real you—heart, soul, and everything in between, within and without—is more frightening than dressing up in even the scariest Halloween costume. But I have no doubt it’s also the most worthwhile way to let the world see you.”
This year, let me add that although it’s difficult—so, so difficult—to shed our disguises, every time we come to our mats we make progress. By its nature, yoga practice dissolves such things as fear, self-consciousness, and other obstructions of our true nature…and after the debris melts away, what’s left is an ever-brighter being, so much more than the costumed individual that first unrolled the mat.
Soup and Then Some
By Laura Mills
Something that says fall to me, nearly as much as leaves, pumpkins and Halloween, is soup. In my youngest days I loved good old canned tomato and chicken noodle. But my mom created countless amazing concoctions, too, the ingredients of which varied from pot to pot, and the older I got the more I grew to love what I now think of as “real” soup. Other than opening a can or reheating Mom’s care-packages, though, I have yet to make soup at home. In the past the process—the finding, chopping and otherwise preparing of ingredients, as well as the simmering of them all together—seemed to require more time and therefore more patience than I was willing to spare. But this year I’m thinking differently.
I need to make soup this year. I think it will do me a great deal of good. 2013 has so far been my craziest year yet; at this moment, as I think about it, my life could be said to resemble an array of cold, odd-sized pieces of different-colored vegetables strewn throughout a kitchen. Some pieces are already beautiful and tasty, but some pieces in their current state are also very coarse, and some are particularly bitter. Unless I allow these pieces to simmer together—slowly—and stir and season them with just the right loving touch, they will remain as they are: cold, odd, and messy.
So what better way to slow myself down and let things simmer than spending a day making soup? I don’t want a recipe. I’m going to make my soup the old-fashioned way: I’m going to wander around the produce section, choose some vegetables and anything else soup-worthy, prepare at my kitchen counter, and then stand at my stove with a big pot of water and my serving spoon. How reassuring, how healing to watch care and time transform a cold collection of odd pieces into something warm and uniquely delicious...the perfect comfort food, indeed.
By Laura Mills
I dedicate today’s post to you, the person reading this. Thank you so much! Whether you are a first-time reader or someone who has followed for a while, know that I greatly appreciate your attention. I have always felt that the words I write flow so much more easily than the words I speak; just as my yoga mat is the place I best physically express myself, the page (or screen) is the place I best verbally express myself. You honor me by spending time reading this expression.
Over the years I have written a great deal, in journal after journal, that was for my eyes only. I have also written much that has yet to be read by more than a few: articles, essays, and short stories, as well as two books, all currently unpublished. Compared to the amount of writing I’ve done, the amount of writing that has been widely read is very small. But still, knowing that someone somewhere has spent time reading each particular piece—each expression of myself—humbles me. And even though I will never know exactly how many people read what I write, I believe that each set of eyes brings a positive vibe. I can only hope that my words return the blessing.
In yoga classes we frequently discuss gratitude. As I try to keep up with my day-to-day life, though, I forget…sometimes I don’t remember until I lay down to sleep, and then it’s usually just one big “thank you” to God. But when I sit down to write this blog, I always remember to be grateful—for my yoga, for my writing, for the opportunity to combine the two, and for the people who read my words. I wish for you the same that I wish for my students on the mat: that something from the experience will make you smile, ease your pain, comfort you, or otherwise help you find what you seek and bring you to a more positive place. Namaste.
Meditation in the Middle
By Laura Mills
These days, my meditation practice usually consists of one solid sitting early each morning, after I do some sun salutations and before I prepare for the rest of the day. I sit cross-legged in the middle of my unlit living room, facing the windows, and I close my eyes and focus on my breath. The house and neighborhood are still and quiet except for early-morning crickets and birds; whatever thoughts arise I easily let float away into the semi-silence.
One recent day I felt the need to meditate in the middle of the afternoon. I had had a stressful week, one that required lots of emotional and physical energy. It was about 3:00pm; I had just gotten home from yoga, but I still felt exhausted, jittery, and unable to think straight. So I sat in my spot in the living room, now brightly lit with sun, closed my eyes and tried to tune in to my breath. But at 3:00 in the afternoon on this particular day my neighbor dribbled a basketball on his patio; every few moments a vehicle passed by; and a hot intermittent wind shook the leaves of the tree outside my windows. After a few moments I opened my eyes, ready to cry; I wanted—I felt I needed—my early-morning peace!
But then an idea arose…. I had been taught time and time again that while one can often not change her circumstances, one could always change her attitude. Obviously I wasn’t going to get my desired meditation environment in this time and place, but what if I viewed my current environment as peaceful anyway? I closed my eyes again. And I listened. The bump, bump, bump of the basketball became the beat of my heart. The swish of the leaves became lapping waves. And the traffic that passed by became the miscellaneous thoughts as they left my mind.
By Laura Mills
Last week I had the pleasure of spending nearly a day-and-a-half on retreat. With my husband off and home with our daughter—both excited for some serious daddy/daughter time—I drove out to Lake Geneva, “on break.” And it was awesome.
I’d never done anything like this before. Only once have I gone out of town alone, and that was to a yoga conference at which I attended several classes. That was also before I was a parent. But this, a total “me-cation” during which I had no obligations, was completely new. Looking back, I am amazed at what a difficult decision it was to go in the first place. Though I had thought about this for a long time, my mind kept giving me reason after reason why I shouldn’t go. I maintained my doubts even a few days prior to leaving; mainly, stepping away from my day-to-day life and doing something one-hundred-percent for me felt…weird. But based on past experiences, I knew I would regret not trying, so this time I dutifully packed my duffel, filled the gas tank and set out.
I’m definitely doing this kind of thing again. Not because of my activities while I was away…even though I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, the boat tour and shopping, the hotel and restaurants. No, I’m doing this again because the best part about it was being with myself. I hadn’t realized just how much I had lost track of myself lately, constantly running around and aiming towards the next item on my to-do-list…that once I was on my own with no agenda, I was surprised at the “sound” of the thoughts in my head, the notion of listening to my own voice. It was like running into an old friend after a long time. And yes, it was awkward at first…but within a few hours I knew it was a good thing. Completely content, I sat for a while on the rocks by the lake, watching the water and the birds and thinking how great it would be to bring myself back home the next day, refreshed.
Time for Time
By Laura Mills
I keep a notebook on my kitchen table in which I list everything I intend to do each day. It’s a dynamic list, one to which I constantly add and on which I sometimes move items around. Occasionally, I even cross items off. This is my master calendar, my manual for running my life. I keep an abbreviated version of this calendar on my phone, which comes with me everywhere—and which also gets stored on my computer, thus creating a third calendar. I also have a hanging calendar in my kitchen and a desk calendar in my bedroom, neither of which I write on, but both of which I look at to remind me of the day and date when I forget…which is often.
Having so many calendars, in my hands I can literally hold more “time” than I should ever need…yet more often than not, I feel that I need the day to be at least three hours longer. Sometimes, like when I notice the lingering items in my kitchen table notebook, I feel that I need the week to be another day longer. And when I consider the upcoming classes I need to plan, the gifts for which I haven’t yet shopped, or the stretch of time since my last blog, I feel that I need the month to be another week longer.
I believe the solution exists in the physical holding of my calendars—my “time”—in my hands. Let the sensation of them remind me that how I spend my finite number of hours is completely up to me; let their presence remind me that the hours I have, as well as my ability to choose how to spend them (even if the only choice is to take a deep breath and carry on), are all gifts as real as any other gifts my hands can hold. And with gratitude for those gifts I will practice peace of spirit, which I know can sweeten a lengthening to-do list any day.
A Few Short Weeks
By Laura Mills
June is nearly over…it’s a fact, but it’s something I’m having trouble believing. I feel like June just started—no, I feel like May just started. Except earlier this week I got invited to a Fourth of July get-together…. The truth is I’ve allowed this summer so far to slip away much more quickly than I’d like. Before I know it, August will be here and I’ll feel the need to start planning for fall and beyond.
It’s just too easy to get caught up in our “stuff,” isn’t it? Everyday stresses like chores and errands, responsibilities and obligations…and then also not-so-everyday stresses like illnesses, fender benders, disagreements, deadlines…. We all deal with a variety of these things all the time; at any given moment most of us, I believe, have something on our minds that stresses us to some degree. No wonder days and weeks so often blur into one weighty, rolling mass of time.
Yes, June is nearly over…I need to clear my head before it’s too late and summer is gone! As I move forward, one of my strategies is to more often stop what I’m doing—such as getting out of bed, entering my car, washing dishes—and just breathe for a few moments. Another strategy is to more often whisper words of gratitude when I feel the grace of a blessing—such as when I play with my daughter, set out for a walk, or sit down to eat. Even if I remember to employ these strategies only a handful of times in the next few weeks, I’ll succeed in slowing my summer at least a little. And when August arrives, I’ll have experienced that much more, instead of just passing through as usual.
By Laura Mills
For the last two weeks I’ve followed via blog the journey of friends who, like my husband and me last year, traveled to China to adopt their daughter. Their journey is indeed monumental…not only have they traveled halfway across the world to a place they’ve never been before, but also the trip marks the end of their nearly seven-year wait to adopt from China as well as the beginning of their brand-new family’s life together. As I write this, I’m thinking about where they might be right now and what they might be doing…and just like when I made my own journey to China last year, the emotions almost take my breath away.
Not every life involves a trip halfway around the world, nor does every life experience such profound events in such rapid succession. But every life, no matter the circumstances, does require epic travels. Just being born, for one thing, is a journey of the most amazing kind! Then there’s our slide through childhood, our climb through adolescence, and our tentative first steps into adulthood…with all kinds of mini-journeys, each with its own beginning and end, along the way. And consider all the traveling we do as adults—we search for places to live, we fall in love, we explore careers and hunt for jobs, each sometimes many times over. We climb ladders and jump through hoops; we raise families; time and time again we risk our hearts and our sanity for the sake of happiness, our own or someone else’s. We sail through certain trials and sink under others. We seek fulfillment. And here and there along the way, we often just wander.
Think about where you are right now and what you’re doing. Then think about all the traveling you’ve done to arrive at this fleeting moment. The emotion might just take your breath away, too….
Peace to your journey, wherever it takes you.
Ready for Savasana
By Laura Mills
In my last blog post I wrote about May being the month in which I encounter my most notable life “landmarks,” such as my daughter’s adoption day anniversary and my birthday, and that therefore it’s the month in which I feel the greatest sense of time and change. Now, as May ends, even as I sadly eat the last of the cake, I can’t help but feel relief. It was a fun, happy month to be sure, but the truth is…it’s hard to celebrate constantly!
In my house May is like a second holiday season, the notable difference being that instead of leading up to one grand holiday at the end, in May we fully celebrate several individual days. Each involves at least one special meal—although usually more, spread out among days before and after—as well as cake and of course presents. And we take pictures, lots and lots of pictures. (I’m still working on organizing pictures from last May.) By the end of the month, though I’ve had a wonderful time, I’m feeling exhausted, stuffed, and overwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t change a thing about May. I am beyond grateful that I have so many reasons to celebrate, and I do think it’s cool that so many of them fall within a few very short weeks. But if there’s one lesson yoga lends to this situation, it’s this: one absolutely needs down time in order to receive the most from celebration. On our mats Savasana, after all, is when the effects of all the previous asanas coalesce. Without Savasana, so much about a practice remains un-experienced.
And so, as my off-the-mat equivalent of an exhilarating but two-hour, sweaty, core- and lunge-focused Vinyasa class ends, I’m settling myself for a long, sweet Savasana. That doesn’t mean I’ll be checking out until next May. It means that while I’ll do my best to stay as present as I was during the celebration, I’ll be at peace with the relative quiet, too. This, the everyday stuff, is the reason for celebration in the first place; this, the down time, is when celebration makes sense.