#22. "If" and Other Invitations
Updated: Sep 17
The first informal invitation doesn't start with an I. Although one could argue it starts with I, as in me. It's a reach. I'm a reacher. But not like the young waiter at Lorena's wedding last weekend in Monterey who said he was "just going to do a reach-around here" to set a plate down, which proved a challenge for us all to not chuckle heartily until he was no longer within earshot. Already, I digress.
Yesterday in the parking lot of Target, an older woman (I'm guessing octogenarian, and that's being generous) backed into my car despite my prolonged honking. After tapping my car (calling it anything more would be dramatic and un-impeccable with my word), she moved forward a few inches, which didn't leave me much room to continue backing into my intended parking spot. I opened my window and yelled "Come on, lady! Move up!"
I patted myself on the back for not cursing.
She pulled up into two spaces, parking all sorts of diagonally, and I got out to check the damage (there was none, except for the nail I somehow broke when I got back into my car to turn it off). She opened her door as I walked towards her, nearly slumping out of her seat. She looked exquisitely glamorous, and also very fragile, like she was about to have a heart attack. I told her there was no damage and that everything was fine.
She didn't seem to understand, just looked up at me, stricken and sheepish. I asked if she was okay, and peeked in to see her equally old and equally glamorous friend with a Shih Tzu on her lap, smiling sheepishly but not nearly as stricken. I asked again if she was okay, and she said, in broken English, that she was scared and that she felt so bad. I told her that there was absolutely no need for either, that everything really was fine and I'm sorry if I startled her by yelling very loudly.
Then, she grabbed my hand and kissed it, then put it to her cheek, grateful for what, I'm not sure - that I wasn't pressing charges or charging her with a baseball bat? No matter. In that moment, I was even more glad that I hadn't cursed at her. I noticed the handicapped placard on her rearview mirror and asked if she might prefer to move to a designated parking spot. She pointed to the placard in some sort of agreement and demurred. I think.
I made further sure, as much as I could, that she wasn't in cardiac arrest or something, and noticed the difference in my inner emotional state from when she was (slowly) approaching me with the back of her vehicle, to after she grabbed my hand with her frail and well-manicured fingers, which reminded me of my grandmother's. I was no longer exasperated, but actually quite touched, and also amused, and not in a condescending way.
As someone whose religion was holding on to things until well after the cows came home, I used to think people who could start laughing (not in a condescending way) in the middle of an argument were absolutely insane, but I've found that it really is possible to shift our mind and feeling gears, no matter what's going on.
Your first informal invitation for this week, then, is to stop in the middle of a heightened emotion and see if you can shift gears and maybe find something to giggle at, even if for a second and even if using your inside voice, whether it's recognizing the ludicrousness of it all or tapping into the cosmic humor of what it is to be sublime spirits in these clumsy meat sacks. We don't have to stick to any story, even if it's the story of three seconds ago.
Over the last week or so, I've been contemplating how much I use the word "if." I'm talking about, "If only I'd done this/said that," or "What if [any combination of A-Z to the power of infinity] happens?" or "If the remotest possibility of this, then that definitely means that."
It turns out, thoughts including this tiny two-letter supposition take up a lot more of my brain energy than I realized. Sure, it can be helpful for planning purposes, because we are humans that live in the world and sorta have to strategize around "time," but outside of that, its usefulness is questionable. I'm starting to recognize its role as a distraction from what's actually going on in this moment, for myself and in my work with my clients.
I lately find myself living more and more in an internal world of hypothesis and conjecture, when I could be seeing what's actually in front of me, smelling the flowers (or the questionable air quality), or, as Thich Nhat Hahn said, washing the dishes to wash the dishes.
Informal invitation: This week, notice how much you think or say the word "if." Do you find the word and the ensuing thought useful? Unnecessary? Every time "if" enters my mind, I'm going to lion's breath it out (or just a regular exhale), and return my focus to what's here, now.
Speaking of breathing, I've also been considering how, when we're told to "take a deep breath," what that really translates to is taking a quick and haphazard inhale so that we can experience the payoff of an elongated (and, typically, way more mindful) exhale.
On behalf of inhales everywhere, I'm feeling a bit overlooked. Inhales are (un)marketed as simply a necessary thing on the road to the reward. Personification of bodily functions aside, there are scientific reasons it can feel easier and more instinctive to exhale than to inhale. I won't go into it, because 1) I'm not a kinetic molecular theorist, and because 2) you have access to the internet.
While there are benefits to exhaling for longer than you inhale (like stimulating the vagus nerve, which tells your brain to then tell your body that everything is fine), if you want to get really relaxed, there's Sama Vritti Pranayama. (I will go briefly into this one because I am, in fact, doubly trained as a yoga teacher.)
Sama = equal; vritti = mental fluctuations; prana = life force; yama = restraint.
Equal breathing equalizes mental fluctuations to bring us to that precious middle state in which we can float calmly between our highs and lows.
Breathe in for a slow count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4, repeat for a few rounds or 5 minutes, and notice the mental chatter subside.
When we die, we don't take a last inhale. We take a last exhale. I hadn't really thought about this much until I took a singing lesson years ago, and the teacher had me vocalize an exhale, extending it for as long as possible until I had no air left in my lungs. Long story short, this practice gave me anxiety. The feeling of not having any breath left, even if optional and fleeting, can be, understandably, panic-inducing. It's discomfiting to have no air left. It's comforting to know there is air left. Simple, really.
The metaphoricist (I think I just made up a word) in me wants to experiment with taking in as much breath (intentionally inhaling life) as I am able to release breath (unconsciously dying), and seeing what unfolds from there.
Informal invitation: Throughout the week, notice if there's a difference in level of body and mind calmness between taking longer exhales versus equal-length inhales and exhales.
Approaching menstruation every month, I somehow forget that that's a regular occurrence and wonder why I'm bloated or irritable or insecure or all the other fun things we women get to experience on our lifetime journeys with these reproductive systems. And then, the realization. The "Ahh."
These days, it's the same for food. This week, I wondered why I was so tired and lackluster and unmotivated, and why it felt like I had shin splints, but all over my body. And then, I realized I'd been eating inflammatory foods (read: absolute garbage) for days.
Ignorance is bliss, truly. Until it no longer is. A part of me misses those years I seemed to thrive on a fixed diet of fast food with less than no regard for how anything I ingested actually affected my systems. Once you awaken to certain things, it's nearly impossible to go back to that peaceful slumber of unawareness.
Informal invitation: Simply notice how you feel in body and mind after whatever you eat or drink. More difficult invitation: let go of what doesn't make you feel good (beyond a momentary spike in dopamine). Woof! I know, I don't love that one, either. But, to again quote TNH, we choose the suffering that is familiar. (And, might I add, the suffering that uses our own neurotransmitters to trick us into thinking something bad for us is good). This week, I'm still going to enjoy yummy things, but I'm also going to focus more on feeding myself in a way that eases my joint pain. Your last informal invitation: Balance!
Let me know how it goes!
with love and thanks, brookie