Jan 23, 2014 0 Share

A Hard-Won Peace


Illustration of woman meditating at sunrise.
Thinkstock

Once upon a time I went to a yoga class feeling, well … awful. I was cranky and tense for no apparent reason. Maybe this is what Willie feels like before a meltdown, I thought. I would have taken a page from my brother's book and rolled myself up in a rug, burrito-style, if only we'd had one in the house. An elusive something was wrong, and I was desperate to fix it. When I confessed this to my teacher before the start of class, she said, “Well, you know, it's okay not to be okay.” Spontaneously, I hugged her; her words gave me a sense of relief and surrender. Even so, my mind rebelled: No! I don't want to be all Zen, I want to feel better! 

Class began, and I was still a conflicted mess—at least on the inside. My mind was not cooperating, but my body was in great shape. My body did every pose, moving calmly and freely. So I decided to appreciate what was working, rather than worry about what wasn't. Moving my body helped release the negative feelings. That's part of why our family is so big on physical activity: Willie's harmful behavior decreases when he walks Chevy, swims, and gets enough exercise. 

Yet somewhere in the middle of the class, I felt it catching up to me. You know what it is: it's the truth you don't want to face. That's a major part of why so many people are so busy, why we make our lives unnecessarily difficult. That's why we wish for a day off, a day to sleep in, but then say yes to a bunch of people who ask us for rides on a weekend morning. That's why we long for the weekend, but once it finally arrives, we find ourselves itching to go back to work, back to being productive. We'll just check our email. We'll just clean the bathroom. Translation: “I'll do anything to stay busy and avoid the vulnerability!” 

We've all been there. And If we took a moment to breathe, a day to rest, we'd run the risk of encountering some pretty strong feelings. I am, of course, included in this “we.” At the time of that yoga class, I'd been breaking down in tears every weekend for several weeks. It was hard and uncomfortable and messy. And it had a lot to do with the fact that I'd started taking actual weekends off for the first time in a long time. On those weekends, grief, anger, and loneliness caught up to me. At the time, Willie was going through an unexpected period of aggression, and I felt powerless to help him or our parents. When I had the least to do, I felt most afraid. This made sense, because I was actually feeling the distance between myself and my family. I was actually experiencing the grief and anger that arose whenever I heard that Willie had hurt himself or our parents again. How frightening it is to know, on a visceral level, that you have little to no power to intervene when a beloved brother struggles. 

But here's what I've learned, what I want to share with you, fellow siblings and family members. It's simple, but it may help to hear someone else affirm it: You are stronger than your feelings. They're not out to get you. They're just messengers alerting you to the truth about your life. And when you admit them to your awareness, they don't last forever; they ebb and flow like the tide. The feelings you're afraid of will wash over you, yes, but you—the essential you, the core you—won't get swept away. You can bear them. Moreover, you must … that is, if you want to keep recognizing the person in the mirror. 

That day in yoga, I lowered myself onto the mat for final relaxation and gave up the fight. After moving my body and feeling those waves of emotion, the only thing left to do was rest. My only sane option was the same thing I wished for my brother: the ability to surrender to a hard-won peace.