Feelin’ It

I left my last law school final at noon today and immediately did a cartwheel. I ran to hug two of my very dear friends and yelled an enthusiastic WOO! I’M DONE! I threw in a cheerleader kick for good measure, and because even after three years of professional school, it’s still something I feel like doing.

I. feel. incredible.

Like, out of my mind euphoric. I feel like I want to hug and kiss and high five and butt slap and fist pound every person I see. Because whatever it is that’s going on inside of me I want to spread it around. I want to walk up to total strangers and tell them, “trust me, you need some of this.”

I can’t even remember the last time I felt this kind of in-your-face-explosive-excitement.

Maybe never.

For the first time since this all started three years ago I’m letting myself sink into it. All of the stories of negativity and resistance are evaporating in the heat of “holy crap I did it!”Today it doesn’t matter whether law school was right or wrong for me. Today it doesn’t matter how the rest of my life turns out. Because it happened. Exactly the way it did. Without judging it, or qualifying it, or diminishing the weight of the accomplishment, I am feeling it.

And it feels good.

You Can Do It

I feel lonely and nostalgic during finals. I miss hanging out with my friends. I mostly study, eat and practice yoga in my empty apartment. I laugh less. Hug less. Complain more.

Last night, huddled in my bed, I closed my kindle and started reflecting on love-filled memories from other days of long hours studying and limited human contact.

My mind landed on my bedroom wall, two years ago, at 1501 16th street, in apartment 202.

During Spring semester of my first year of law school I had five finals in 10 days. Five finals. Ten days. It was insane.

The mere act of taking that number of exams in that short a period is enough to just about kill a regular person. Ask any law student how they think they would handle it. Listen as they tell you, “I need a drink.”

I slept at my mom’s house the night before the first one. The madness had barely begun and I was already feeling strung out and overwhelmed. When I stumbled into my room to grab my belongings,  I glanced up at the wall above my dresser. There, on an ordinary yellow post-it, in her giant, less-than-elegant, but very distinctive handwriting my roommate had written:

You Can Do It.

I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up.

Yes I can.

Over the next ten days, I took a careful, deliberate moment to look at that post-it every time I was in my bedroom. I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up. I could feel my roommate squeeze me and look me in the eyes. She believed in me. It felt like she was holding me up.

It was a small act of love, but, even in my reflection, I feel the strength of it.

Four months after my last final we moved out of that apartment. The post-it was the last thing to leave my bedroom.  I was plagued by feelings of loss and fear and sadness for the end of two incredible years living with my best friend. I’d been crying for almost five hours straight. As I peeled it off the wall I paused. I breathed it in. I held my breath to soak it up.

You Can Do It.

The End of Days

My best friend wrapped his lanky, pre-pubescent arms around my waist and kissed my forehead. He wiped my sweat-drenched bangs from my face and said, “I love you.” I looked up at him, probably 11 inches, smiled and buried my nose in his chest. I cried a little and he squeezed me tighter. He smelled like dirty boy and old high school gym. I could have bathed in those smells forever.

It was the final moments of my sixth grade graduation party. It was the first time I resisted the end of something. It might have been the first time, for me, something ended. It is my first memory of losing something and refusing to let it go.

I cried for the first three weeks of that summer after sixth grade. Even the thought of a new school, new teachers, new friends, new schedule was devastating. I knew the real thing would be torture.

That 12 year old girl who was paralyzed by change lives deep inside of me. She occupies that space of comfort where I feel safety, security, predictability. She thrives on the flow of my routines. She likes to dwell way down in the depths of the: relationships, communities, experiences, organizations that I’m a part of. That place where it feels like nothing else could ever be as good as this.

Today, I face a new end in my life. Law school classes are over. I will likely never be a student again. And as the Facebook statuses go up, and celebrations into the works, I keep returning to an uncomfortable vacancy inside of me: I feel nothing.

As I dig deeper, I realize I’ve spent the last three years resisting the end of my non-law school life. I’ve spent three years refusing to let go of the comfort of my career working with kids. I’ve clung to it so hard I’ve almost completely missed the experience, the reality, of the last three years. I’ve been so afraid of the new(and unfamiliar) opportunities, challenges and expectations of being a lawyer I’ve refused to become one.

About a month before the end of law school I made a commitment to try it out. Be a lawyer. Take depositions. Write briefs. Wear a suit. Along with the terrible angst and anxiety that’s accompanied this commitment, is the inner knowing that to honor it, I have to accept the end of my former life.

I cried this morning thinking about it. I watched the News Story from the last day I spent at my summer camp. For the first time, I observed it as a part of my past. My neck tightened. My stomach clenched. My eyes welled up as sank into the sensation of finality. The sensation I’ve been avoiding.

I know: life is constantly changing; nothing is permanent; everything is shaped by sad ends, and beautiful beginnings with all sorts of enriching, scary, challenging, validating moments in between. But the resistance I feel is real. The fear. The uncertainty. The discomfort. The looking back and wondering, will it ever be as good as that, again?

Hugolution

I’m a hugger.

Four months into my first semester of law school, I made the following observation:

“Nobody hugs in law school”

Since then, it’s been a recurring obsession of mine. I frequently lament how we are a disconnected, unemotional group of people. We complain a lot(see above). We typically divide our time among three soul-draining activities: 1/3 studying, 1/3 complaining about stress, 1/3 drinking.

Law school is a spiritual wasteland.

It was clear early on, I didn’t much care for lawyering. I decided to use my three years of professional school to focus on personal growth and transformation (don’t tell my parents). I’ve been on a journey to be a better person ever since.

Most days it’s proved more challenging than case briefing, outlining and final exams.

Just this year I’ve: read three books on happiness, started a daily meditation practice and done more yoga than most people do in a lifetime. Still, every time I think about my “law school self” I feel disappointed in my spiritual progress.

But just last weekend something incredible happened. My best friend at the law school sent me this video.

It felt like a calling. Like a mandate from the universe: Eight hugs a day.

I told my friend, starting Monday, I was launching an all-out assault on the law school community. A hugolution. No one was safe.

I was convinced I could change the entire climate of the the law school(maybe law schools everywhere?), one embrace at a time.

As I walked to school Monday morning I felt anxious. What if people don’t want me to hug them? What if they think it’s weird? uncomfortable? inappropriate?

I shook off the self-doubt and re-committed to my resolution.

I hugged every single person I saw that morning. It felt extraordinary. By the time I saw my best friend at noon, I was up to seven hugs. By the time I left at 4p.m. I had made at least 30 beautiful connections.

The response was more than I could have ever imagined. The people I thought would be most resistant received my hugs with the greatest enthusiasm. Each time I hugged someone, I watched them brighten. I watched the people I hugged, hug others.  The glow of love and vulnerability followed me around
all day.

So simple. So powerful.

In just one day, I felt and witnessed how hugging dissolves the emotional walls between us. We spend so much time fearing judgment, masking insecurity and performing for each other, we rarely experience true connection with anyone but our most intimate family members and friends.

But each time I hugged someone that day, I felt like we were part of each other. There was an immediate sense of understanding, connection, oneness. It changed our entire interaction.

The hugolution came in the wake of some ugly things happening at other UC campuses. I could see immediately how the energy and magic of the hugolution represented an important opposing force to the type of senseless brutality taking place in the occupy movements.

We draw lines of separation between ourselves and others: value systems, religions, ethnicities, education, experience. The more we focus on defining our difference, the less we understand the ways in which we are intimately, undeniably connected. The less we understand our connection, the less inclined we are to treat each other with love and compassion. The absence of love and compassion is the root of violence. Re-cultivating love and compassion is the only way to combat it.

If we can connect with other people in a way that reveals them as reflections of ourselves, we can’t help but treat each other with care and consideration.

Anger disappears. Violence is impossible

This was my greatest lesson from the hugolution. It started as a way to bring a little more joy to my already abundant and beautiful life. Immediately, I could see how spreading love creates love and that we need to feel love to spread love.

It’s a small thing with a big purpose.

Hug it out ya’ll.

start here

Love, Loss and Law School Finals

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.

Yoga for Over-Achievers

I started practicing yoga my senior year of college. After 22 years of moving quickly, constantly achieving and believing in the American myth of staying busy, I was reluctant (to say the least) to try something I associated with slow movement and soft flute music.

One of my friends told me I should try yoga because it would make me less “frenetic.” “It will help you manage your ‘L.A. energy.'” Frenetic? What? I’m not frenetic. I’m from Northern California for God’s sake?! Jerk.

I think I went to my first class to just prove him wrong.

It’s been four years since I first stepped on a yoga mat. That first class was gentle and non-confrontational. My teacher had long pigtails and sang in savasana. I walked out of the John Wooden Center that morning with a feeling I couldn’t describe. Maybe it was stillness, maybe it was peace. Whatever it was, I wanted more of it, right away.

I went twice a week my last quarter at UCLA. 10 weeks of breathing and bliss.
When the year ended, I went back to my other life. I was a runner, an eliptical rider, an ipod listening, distraction-seeking gym-goer. When I had time, I liked to rollerblade with my mom on the American River bike trail. I had been forcing myself to “workout” every day since I was sixteen.

I stumbled into a power yoga class for the first time in the Fall of 2006. My friend was doing “30 days in L.A,” a self governed challenge where he tried something he’d never done in Los Angeles, every day for a month. He discovered a “donation-based” yoga studio, and dragged me and my roommates along for the experience.

I was an unsuspecting student. I had come straight from my weekend coaching job. I was wearing soccer shorts and a baggy t-shirt. I must have borrowed a mat.
My first class was excruciating. I fell out of half-moon, probably seven times. I remember thinking, damn. That was intense.

I’m not sure what drew me back to Santa Monica Power Yoga, but I remember a distinct moment, it was probably my six or seventh class, where something clicked. I walked out of the studio that night feeling like I had discovered something extraordinary. Something that somehow, was going to change my life.

And it certainly did.

It evolved for me the way it does for many people: at first the physical practice was addicting. My body was strong and fit in a way I hadn’t experienced. The more I got on the mat, the more I appreciated the 90 minutes I spent “out of my head.” I started to look forward to it, then I started to depend on it. It was a workout, a coping mechanism, an escape. It was more than I ever could have imagined.

I stopped going to the gym.

Eventually, I went beyond the physical practice and started to connect yoga to experiences in my every day life. I could feel myself become more calm, more balanced and less reactive. I was lighter, happier and more in control of the experience of my own life. The community of people that popped up around me were likewise, happy, centered and loving. Yoga was incredible.

My practice was put to the test last Fall when I started Law School. Everything you ever hear about the first year of law school is awful. I heard warnings, horror stories and plenty of “good lucks.” By the time I actually made it to my first day of school, I had every reason imaginable not to be there. I was genuinely prepared to surrender my happiness, free-time and sanity to the cause of becoming a lawyer, and it quickly became clear that many people in law school, do just that.

This blog was born, in some ways, out of my experience as a first year law student. In other ways, it has been years in the making. In my life before law school I was an over-achieving, high-strung, hyper-anxious type-A student. I can remember losing sleep over a presentation and pulling an all-nighter on a project as far back as the 3rd grade.

Strangely, for the first time, I found a sense of ease and comfort as a law student. I learned to take a deep breath before responding to a professor’s challenge. I learned to focus on the work that was immediately in front of me, instead of getting overwhelmed by the volume of work looming in the future. I learned to concentrate on my own experience, and tune out the stories of my classmates who loved to complain, brag, whine, react, compete, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to detach my self worth and identity from my achievements as a law student.

Everything I ‘learned’ that year I had practiced first, on my mat. The miracle of my first year was really three years in the making. Three years of showing up. Three years of breathing. Three years of first struggling, then surrendering. The repetitive process, that as yogis we come to depend on, to bring balance back into our lives.

It’s hard to tell these days whether I’m still an ‘over-achiever.’ Sometimes I still refer to myself as one out of habit, or conditioning, or ego, or something else. Yoga has given me powerful insight into what it means to over-achieve, and the reasons why some of us Type-A, go-getter, high-energy types, do what we do the way we do it.

This blog is my practice of “doing less” and “being more.” It is a reminder to myself that love, compassion and acceptance should take priority over achievement, both for myself and the people around me. It is my exploration of the day to day challenges that face someone who is trying to find a balance between “getting what I want” and “being who I want to be,” on, and off the mat.

Namaste.