This Monday, I dropped my daughter off at her first day of kindergarten. Weeks before she stepped into her new school, and all the way up until that morning, she was telling me in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to go to Kindergarten, and that another year of preschool was just fine, thank you.
My 5-year-old is strong. She is independent. She is adventurous. She climbs trees, tries sushi, makes new friends easily, has strong opinions and voices them. But my bold, fiercely independent girl was not so sure about this whole Kindergarten thing.
No one wants things to change.
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At the end of August, my family and I spent 2 wonderful weeks at my family’s beach cottage on the West Coast of Michigan. Endless days of sunshine and beach and swimming and family and friends. We got on the plane home in summer weather, and came home to the chilly mornings, leaves turning, and rainy fall weather of the Pacific Northwest. Now I love my Washington home, but the transition was so…fast. I barely had time to breathe, adjust, or settle into fall. It was just suddenly here.
* * *
This year, I felt like this transition into fall was a shock to my nervous system. I felt unsettled, messy, emotional, resistant. Resistant to coming back to the world of working-doing-producing. Resistant to the noisiness of my kids, resistant to getting back to a set schedule. I felt anxious, tired, easily irritated, even a bit of depression. And those uncomfortable feelings? Did I use my years of mindfulness and yoga practice to gracefully ride the waves of my discomfort? Not at all.
I did my best to push them away. Seeking anything to have me not feel the unsettled, awkward feelings inside of me. I scrolled Facebook mindlessly, I snacked when I wasn’t hungry, I poured an extra glass of wine. I struggled to bring any sense of compassion to myself, even though it’s what I teach. It’s what I invite my students again and again to do – “give space to your discomfort. There is no other way you need to be in this moment,” I say. “There is nothing you need to fix or change.” But did I offer these kind words to myself? Did I give myself compassionate space to be? No. Instead, I felt like a failure – a fraud of a teacher, as I tried to escape the anxious feelings inside of me.
So what did I do that made some sort of difference? I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I committed to setting the mornings aside for myself. I woke early. I sat with my coffee and wrote in my journal. I meditated for 20 minutes, even though my mind was racing, berating myself for this and that, and my heart was anxious. I worked, I took care of my children. I continued to feel uncomfortable.
Like all things do, these feelings changed too. Eventually, the tension eased. The anxiety loosened its grip on my chest. The sun came out. I took my daughter to her first day of kindergarten, held her hand as she walked to the door of the school. As the teacher held out her hand to take her to her class, there was a moment when my daughter looked up at me – a flash of a panicked look in her eyes – realizing I was not allowed to go beyond that door. And then the next moment…she let go. Turned to line up with her class, and didn’t look back. The sunlight was streaming through the windows, creating a glare, and I quickly lost sight of her in the sea of other kids. I didn’t cry, and she didn’t either. But I did felt the enormity of the moment – the letting go, this step into the rest of her life. I realize from here on out, it will be a continual letting go of that little hand.
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Perhaps the most important, and difficult of spiritual practices, is to be patient with ourselves. Give ourselves time to move through difficult spaces, to not rush ourselves, to let ourselves just be uncomfortable. Those moments we resist and struggle, where we don’t want to feel the discomfort of things changing, where we try to escape from our feelings? They are okay too. We can do our best to allow for our resistance as well.
Mindfulness is a paradox: we practice because we want to feel better, to be better people, to grow into better versions of ourselves, and yet, it is not about getting anywhere. It is about being right here. With this moment as it is—sometimes uncomfortable and messy, and sometimes what we want to escape.
When this too changes, as it always does, we can turn, let go, and walk into the sunlight, and allow the next thing to emerge.
* * *
by Mary Oliver
Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about
spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?
Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.
Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though
all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.