On Spinning Out


There's a one-hour hike a few minutes' drive from our home.

It's sun-dappled and abundant and lush and alternately warm and cold, in pockets. Locals know it, and, judging by the number of faces you see at the same time every morning, many make it part of their daily routine. You'll reliably run across a few over-eager dogs bounding ahead of their sweatshirt-clad owners as you haul your heavy pregnant ass up and down the hill.

It's optimally engineered (as if human engineering had anything to do with it): a strong up-slope on the approach, with a good 3 hills or so, all peaches-and-cream downhill for the second half of the hike. Just right.

We've been hiking it regularly all year. It's been a godsend since day one, but especially now, at 6+ months pregnant, when my yoga practice is a shadow of what it used to be. I managed to keep at my usual fake-Ashtanga home practice clip right up to about 15 weeks or so, but since then, there's too much belly in the way to make even Chaturanga or Up Dog feel safe, so it's more stretching than anything else.

My upper arms are getting soft and weak. Like an 18th-century Austen heroine's.

My heart and legs are stronger than ever, thankyouverymuch, Cardio Hike.

(You are not your body. Ain't that the truth. Talk about lessons in impermanence. All things coming and going. Including your backbends. Male yoga teachers: you have no idea. I mean, what it's like to do Utthita Parsvakonasana with a baby belly in the way. What it's like to waddle to the top of the mat like an elephant in attempted Sun Salutations. What it's like to develop your practice for 13 years and then just let. it. go.)

We walked this trail daily in the weeks before the wedding. Spent much of it planning, up and down, up and down, seating charts and ceremony details and housing arrangements and the like. It lent sanity, a blessed escape from our phones for even an hour.

The Mister hikes it early in the morning before work.  These days I'm tired more often, not sleeping so well at night, so by the time I finally roll out at 7:30, he's long gone.

So I hike it more often on my own during the weekdays. I've had more time of late, what with last month's unexpected flooding at Urban Flow and the resulting temporary cancellations of my usual Tuesday and Thursday noon classes there while we rebuild.

Strange unfamiliar space. I'm not used to this much unscheduled time, at least not since my years bartending, that is, which echoed with long luxurious days spent reading the NYT and drinking coffee. More recent years have been top-heavy with commitments, exhausting 17-class weeks, the exceedingly rare day off.

Every day, I lace up my hiking shoes and zip up my ever-tightening grey fleece vest, the thrift store one that says "Space Camp" on the left lapel, and haul my body up and down that hill. Usually to the accompaniment of an intelligent podcast, the kind of podcast that makes me feel smart and connected and curious and not awash in the increasingly-dummified tides of New Age yogaspeak taking over the yoga scene these days.

I listen to theologians and scientists and philosophers. Folks like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Matthieu Ricard and Alain de Botton. They remind me not to get dragged down by the disappointingly anti-critical-thinking bent in the ever-more-commodified yoga world. They remind me to stay hopeful and clever and, by and by, to keep questioning.

I need this.

They remind me, too, that just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I have to get lost in mommy-slop. That there's room for brains in creating a child. That I am not alone in wanting autonomy and connection and intellectual stimulation and emotional complexity and no further unprovoked comments from random baggage clerks at Whole Foods about how it "looks like I'm baking a bun in the oven."

(Since when do pregnant women's bodies become automatic public property?)

The baby is going to know this beloved hike by heart, before he even takes a single step on his own.

When I walk it and think of him, which is most often what I'm thinking of, I am so grateful to be creating life in a place that offers fresh air and stillness and quiet. Environment is everything. That plainsong hush, that freedom to roam, that friendly backdrop of nature is what I had as a kid, and more than anything else what I wish for him, too.

But one day, mid-hike, I realized that I had been walking enveloped by a destination-worthy nature preserve and not been there at all. I hadn't seen one goddamned tree, I hadn't smelled one lone pine, I hadn't heard one sparrow sing, so wrapped up had I been in the thinking and analyzing and wondering and planning. I was so absent in the remembered past and the imagined future that I couldn't even process one iota of the beauty that was surrounding me.

It's so easy for us (yes, I'm talking about you, too, and you know it applies) to get lost in THINKING: capital-T Thinking, the kind that feels urgent and imperative and definitively world-shaping. We grow up assuming that if we can just get all our mental ducks lined up, everything in life will always be under our control. There are so many Very Important Things to always be sorting out, you know? Work and insurance and maternity leave and child carseats and finances and cribs and cloth diapers and all of the assorted paraphernalia of birth and infancy. A girl could spend all day up in her head about this action, not to mention comparing her current life to the one a year ago, which featured considerably more cocktails, or the one that will surely appear a year from now, featuring considerably more bodily fluids.

Enough already. It had to stop. I'd make myself crazy spinning out on plans and analyses and mental murmurings. And barely have the space or presence to enjoy the marvelous real-time circus that is carrying a small beating heart just below my own.

So I picked up Eckhart Tolle's The Power Of Now. I sat down a week ago Monday morning, and left my phone in the other room, and ploughed through all 230 pages before noon. And boy, did it shift things. Boy, did it remind me that this moment is all there is. That there's such sadness in wishing away the present moment for the day I'll be able to do my regular strong athletic practice again or wistfully remembering the moment I could slam 2 vodka martinis before dinner or worrying how the heck I'll be ready to travel cross-country with a 6-week old infant in time for my sister's wedding next April. That in living perpetually in the past or the future we absolutely forgo what is present, what is true, what is real.

Life feels slower since then. More content. I drop thoughts like a hot coal in my hands, just dropping them, coming back over and over to this very moment.

Aspects of Tolle's book irritated me, for sure. All his claptrap philosophy about women being closer to enlightenment because they are part of Mother Earth's creative birthing energy, blah blah blah? Dude, take a gender studies class already and realize that that attitude is why we're raping the Earth and plundering the seas and why women's bodies have been shoved under steel-toe boots for centuries. Get rid of that shit. And all the gratuitous flowery talk of the "Unmanifested" and other randomly-capitalized words? Enough already. Be real. Cut the faux-spiritual crap.

But there were other parts that served. The wisdom and liberation of learning to watch the mind. The freedom that comes with realizing you are not your thoughts. The power of stepping away from addictive mental masturbation (I think always of Michael Stone's reminder that "Your life doesn't need you to think about it all the time") and trusting that all will be fine and the bills will get paid and the baby will get swaddled and the career will be salvaged.

There are a lot of things I'd like to say these days which feel too edgy, too sharp, too critical. I am tired of feeling vaguely muzzled by the yoga scene. I am tired of endemic spiritual bypassing. I am tired of the assumption that yoga teachers shouldn't have prickly opinions, should be always and ever generally lobotomized by bliss. I am tired of perky brand-new 21-year-old teachers sharing exhausted Rumi quotes and naively urging the unwashed, over-worked masses to "BE HAPPY!!!" I'm tired of selfies and Instagram and recipes for turmeric kale juice. I'm tired of all the Top 10 "How To Be Perfectly Enlightened" lists. I'm tired of the pressure to be a perfect yogini. I don't want to be a super-ninja yogini mama doing backflips days before birth and subsisting on celery juice and chia seeds. I want to eat cake and rest well and stop hustling. (I'm serious about that cake part.  Check out Flour Craft Bakery in San Anselmo for 100% gluten-free god-blessed baked-goods heaven.) I want to be home, be still, read thoughtful books, play piano, spend less time sending out newsletters or planning workshops.

I know this is for the large part very normal, seasonal, hormonal, physiological, to be expected.

Just don't take it personally when I put off making plans. It's not about you. (Unless you're Chip Wilson.)

It's just, well; I'd much rather be hiking. Not thinking. Not talking. Just being. Listening. Breathing.

Here.

See you on the trail. I'l be the one huffing and swearing under her breath.

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