I started teaching yoga the same month I started law school. I remember the first time someone asked me what I do for a living in my “real life.” I’ll never forget the look on her face when I told her I was a first year law student. She looked confused and disoriented, like I had just told her I commute to the yoga studio from my palace on the moon, or something.
I made my life a priority. My friends, my yoga practice, teaching, learning, loving. For the most part, it was a wild success.
In late April my law school fantasy was interrupted by the most intellectually brutal fifteen days of my academic life: law school finals.
I studied for ten hours a day, barely ate, and hardly communicated with anyone who wasn’t also drowning in a spiritually sterile abyss of note cards and outlines. I had my mind on a single intention: get A’s. Worry about everything else later. My mom saw me in person, sometime around the half-way point, and was completely horrified by my appearance and demeanor.
After so many months of self-indulgent (mostly ego-driven) pride about my light-hearted and easy-going take on “1L,” I felt embarrassed and defeated.
The weirdest part of the experience was walking back into my life two weeks after I’d left it. I had a realization that I’d spent the last fifteen days occupying the planet with a beating heart and working lungs, without taking a single breath. How could I just skip through two entire weeks of my own life? How could I give up so much time in an experience (human) that only guarantees a limited amount of it?
This year, as fall semester finals lingered on the horizon, I hunkered down and prepared to turn off the world.
But the Universe had a different lesson this year. The mom of a close high school friend of mine was killed in a car accident a week before finals. It turned our entire community upside down. It broke my heart. I cried every time I thought of my dear friend and this horrible tragedy. In the days following the accident I heard incredible, beautiful stories: People reaching out from all over to comfort my friend, heartfelt messages posted to the obituary in the Sacramento Bee, endless offerings of love, support and compassion. It was remarkable. It reminded me how wonderful we all are. How when the worst, most unimaginable things happen, we shine as our purest, most radiant selves.
And it reminded me of something else: It’s so easy to get lost in the demands of the every day and miss opportunities to spread joy, love and happiness. For me, finals exemplifies the mindlessness that can sometimes overwhelm our sensitivity to the life we’re living. It highlights the ways in which our to-do lists, deadlines and endless stream of obligations can blur the line between existing and living. We can get so caught up in all that we have to accomplish, we lose our connection to what’s really important: the people, things and moments that fill us up. This fall, I found plenty of time to send loving thoughts, a hand written card and facebook messages to my friend. I found time to call my own mom to tell her I love and miss her. I found time to cherish the people I love most in my life.
I realized that even in the most demanding weeks of my life, I can make time to let my human self shine through my law student self. I realized that, no matter how busy we are, it is how we direct our attention that creates our experience. With a to do list three pages long, we can still make a choice to focus our energy on positivity, light, love.
Yoga taught me about the power of my attention. Yoga taught me that the world is coming from me, not at me, and that even in the midst of stress, anxiety and tremendous academic pressure, I am still in charge of my reactions. I can choose to shut down, disconnect and run away. And with only slightly more effort and a little conscious awareness, I can choose to be present, committed to happiness (even when it’s hard) and to ground myself in love instead of burying my heart in fear. Because each moment is too precious, and life is too indefinite, to sacrifice two whole weeks of living for a couple of lousy law school finals.