I have known many people who have been forced to take a path less traveled through betrayal, illness, loss, or injury. When I saw their lives being derailed I felt a strong
empathetic reaction and tried to provide any support I could. However, there is no lesson better learned than the one you experience first hand. And this is where I was taught the most profound and painful lesson of my life. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough, depending on your opinion, to experience a drastic unexpected turn that shook the foundation of my life. How did I get here? I took a very mundane trip on a hotel elevator one beautiful sunny day that ended with me in a coma with a traumatic brain and spine injury and my family being told to make necessary arrangements because this may not end well for me. As you may suspect since you are reading these words, the worst did not happen, I survived. The path since that time has been both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The heartwarming moments were the friends and family that mobilized to help me and my family through my rehabilitation and recovery. The heartbreaking moments are the debilitating pain I have suffered from since the accident, the loss of pleasurable pastimes and the drastic change in my career trajectory. I owned my own company, I was a runner and ran several times a week with a group of marvelous women who had become more than running buddies they were my emotional support system. I was a lover of food, my guilty addiction was binge-watching the food network. I own a BMW motorcycle and loved to go for rides with my brother and friends. Not only did I suffer brain trauma but I also suffered spine trauma that has required two surgeries to repair the damage. I have not been able to run since the accident, I have been told by the medical experts I should not ride a motorcycle again, according to the doctors I cannot afford another head injury. I have completely lost my sense of smell which has affected the flavors I experience. So the foods and drinks I enjoyed before do not hold the same pleasure now. I sold my company, my recovery demanded my focus and required an abrupt career path change.
These adjustments due to my unexpected turn, while regrettable, are trivial when all is said and done. But the adjustment I did not anticipate is the shifting sands of my support system. Two friends that were my stalwarts through this whole event both relocated out-of-state. Their sudden absence was difficult for me and my family. That coupled with the more subtle shifting sands of friends connected to specific pastimes and activities I can no longer participate in has been disorienting and disquieting. As a result, I have come to understand the inherent voluntary nature of friendship that makes it subject to life’s whims and unexpected turns. This path was unforeseen and has required me to release expectations of myself and others, which admittedly is a work in process. I have friends who have put me up on a tenuous pedestal as an inspiration and I have friends who have chastised me for infractions of judgment. Both are uncomfortable realities of my new path. Change is generally distressing for all, those riding out the storm as well as the onlookers. My ask for you dear reader – be gentle with yourself and others embroiled in change. There are many people traveling unexpected paths and they no longer fit in the box they have been dutifully building for themselves. Therefore to view or deduce them from your own constructed framework or ethos will prove frustrating for all.
I refer to us “unexpected path pilgrims” as phoenixes. A phoenix attains new life by arising from the ashes of its forebearer. There are many of us out there, for those who love the phoenixes in your life, understand the phoenix no longer has their rigid framework, it was obliterated. There is a blessing in that glorious cacophony as well as turmoil. So relating to your phoenix with your own rigid framework will be disappointing. You can both grow from this experience and peek outside your own cage and search for connections in unlikely places not previously explored. If you are only drawn to people who see and experience the world as you do, and one of those conformists suddenly takes you out of your comfortable allegory, it’s scary. Your phoenix may no longer fit in the story you have created. I encourage you to explore a new narrative. I have always loved mosaics, the beautiful randomness of divergent colors, shapes, sizes, and flow that come together to paint a beautiful image is a wonderful example that a change in path or perspective can lead you to an unexpected and powerful result.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading ~ Gautama Buddha
Yesterday while I was at Yoga we were doing the tree pose, one of my absolute favorites, I love the balance poses, my beautiful teacher Jan reminded us not to be worried about the constant movement and adjustment, that builds strength. She went on to share that when the Biosphere 2, a completely closed ecological system built in the early 1990’s to mimic earth’s system for research purposes, was created the trees grew quickly, but they fell over and they determined it was due to the lack of wind. They also realized the trees had softer wood than trees in the wild. So while they grew faster they were harmed in the long run due a poor root system and soft exterior. So the wind, in other words the turbulence around the trees, actually created stronger, healthier trees.
I thought about how my yoga practice improved when I no longer resisted the poses and actually yielded to them. I still remind myself of that, when I am at my edge in a particular pose. The more I resist the pose the more uncomfortable it feels and I can feel I am hurting myself instead of building strength and flexibility. It actually reminded me of when I was in labor and when I would have a contraction my first response was to tense up and resist the pain, which actually made the pain worst. When I would consciously breathe and practice relaxation the pain was much more tolerable. The same is true with my long distance running, when I felt myself resisting and tensing I would start to feel discomfort and fatigue.
I reflected on how the last two years of turbulence in my life has actually made me stronger, I feel strong inside and out. I am less likely to resist the turbulence in my life, I breathe and yield to it. I recognize when I am resisting and remind myself this is part of my conditioning as a human being. I lost a friend to cancer last week and rather than resisting my grief I yielded to it and allowed myself to express my feelings. It was probably extremely uncomfortable for some people around me but it was very balancing for me.
Jan, my yoga teacher and prophet, also shared with us how the salmon when spawning and swimming upstream can find themselves bumping along the rocks at the edges of the stream and they try to find the steady stream of resistance where the path is difficult but clear, because that is their purpose. What an analogy for life, I have found myself bumping along the rocky shore many times and realize I need to get back into the steady stream where it requires steady action but my path is clear. She reminded us that intention is the key. Living life and making decisions fully aware and engaged with your intention is the way to the clear path, that does not mean that it will be easy, but the path will be unhindered.
While Jan was sharing the story of the spawning salmon, I reflected on a recent conversation with a girlfriend who is a single mom and has two daughters in college. She was sharing with me that she was reading a study about how today’s mom’s unwittingly hold their daughter’s back in an attempt to help them, and she was fighting the urge herself. My friend’s daughter had decided not to come home for the summer and instead was going to a large metropolitan area to get a job. My girlfriend started with a litany of safety concerns and financial concerns to justify why she did not want her daughter to go. You see my friend found a job for her daughter that would pay well and she would be home. My friend finally confessed to me she really wanted her daughter to come home and be close to her. My heart went out to her because I have a daughter and I love being with her and I knew how difficult this must be. She told me she knew her daughter needed to do this, so she supported her decision and said she would use me as her audio journal to share her trepidation without holding her daughter back. We talked quite a while about this and I told her to remember, we learned from our mistakes, and it’s time for her to learn from hers as well. Again difficult but clear. I only hope I remember this advice when I need it in a few years.
I am very connected to mother earth and look to her for inspiration and life lessons. She always provides both if I am open to receive her gifts of knowledge. Everything we need to understand in life is reflected by mother earth, she is a strong system particularly when we yield to her rather than resisting the natural order of things. The greatest lesson we all can learn is that strength and balance are intertwined, if we do not develop strength we cannot develop balance. Mother earth has taught us that, as we have tried to create more convenience in our life, we as a civilization have weakened ourselves and thrown ourselves out of balance. I have learned over the last few months as I have embarked on a more balanced system for myself, one that more closely reflects nature, eating more whole foods, drinking lots of water, movement, working hard, playing, engaged in my community, engaged in my family, staying connected to others, as I stay true to this path I feel amazing and balanced.
The message here is that we need to grow strong roots and exterior by weathering the turbulence of our life and as a mother I am reminded I need to allow my saplings to grow strong roots and exterior too, not by sheltering them from the wind but allowing them to yield to the wind. I will remain alongside them until it is my turn to go back to the earth, so they know I am there with them, witnessing them growing stronger.
“As mother’s of future generations and steward’s of mother earth we must resist the urge to take the convenient path, for in the end it leads to misery. Instead we must take the more challenging path filled with uncertainty for as we hike this path we learn strength, balance and sustainability.” – Marsia Geldert-Murphey
Do you have a story of strength and balance you are willing to share? Or do you have a tip or suggestion for leading a more balanced life? Please share your stories here.