16: Until You Don’t

There’s a mixed CD floating around that I made in the early 2000s. It’s a compilation of powerful, female country artists singing from their broken hearts. There are eighteen tracks. Songs about revenge and sadness and desperation. Lyrics about healing, and recovery and the first time you see your ex. Moments of “I’ll be o.k.” and “I’m moving on” and then, with complete honesty, “I’ll never, get over, you.”

I made it two years after my first, real heart break. I put it together for my college best friend who was on the rebound, from the same guy, for the third time, in four years.

He’s on the short list of people I refuse to forgive, even after ten million hours on my yoga mat.

Two years after that, my best friend since I was thirteen ended a relationship with her live-in boyfriend of five, almost six, years. Theirs was a slow, painful death. It was the kind of disaster that shows up first, way-off in the distance. You see it coming, but refuse to believe it. The dark cloud of the inevitable creeps over the horizon of the rest of your life, constantly threatening to descend on the foreground. Lingering, hovering, dangerously close to ruining everything you know to be true and real and safe.

When it finally arrives it’s like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs.

And you’re the last surviving pterodactyl, climbing out of the wreckage.

Amy needed the prehistoric Red Cross, not Martina Mcbride.

But I gave her the CD anyway.

And several years later, she passed it on to someone else.

There’s nothing like a broken heart.

I was twenty-one the first time I felt the big hurt. The pulsing nausea right in the pit of my stomach. The sleeplessness and the loss of appetite. Sneaking around the back patio of Luvalle commons, down the backside of campus, along my secret escape route, because just laying eyes on him, made me sick.

Crying on the phone in the back of my walk-in closet, whispering to my mom so my roommates wouldn’t hear.

The days where it doesn’t hurt as much as it did yesterday and then suddenly, it hurts twice as much as it did any day before.

The getting back together and the breaking up again.

The reliving, and re-telling and the promising myself, I’ll do better next time.

Heartbreak is the feeling that marks the intensity of every other feeling I’ve ever had.

It’s the biggest and the baddest and in the thick of it, I know it will last forever.

But then, it doesn’t.

I missed my college boyfriend every day for a year and a half. Then, one morning, I woke up feeling whole again. I didn’t want to see him and I stopped dreaming of our future together. I took his pictures off my laptop and let go of  our old stories, especially the ones haunting my every attempt to move on.
I couldn’t predict it and I couldn’t explain it. There was no formula, or step by step.

It hurt until it didn’t hurt anymore.

Feelings, for me, are a challenging beast. I want to rope them down and control them. I want to push them aside when they’re interfering with my life. I want to move through them quickly, and when they linger, I  feel frustrated, and helpless, and impatient.

The raw, painful ones are the toughest. I don’t want to make space for the feelings that fill my whole body. I don’t want to “be in it” or “sit with it” or take bigger, deeper breathes. I want to displace them and be distracted. I don’t want to cry and and I don’t want to “talk to someone” about it.

I just want to feel “better” on my own terms.

I discover, over and over, that feelings are a wild animal, and can’t be tamed. They come on strong, or maybe slowly, but always without a formal announcement. They target my heart and the base of my belly, and migrate up my spine, and neck, then, down, deep in my hips.

Sometimes I feel sluggish and out of sorts. Or inexplicably angry at people who’ve done nothing wrong. Other times I feel energized by the  fear that if I stop moving, I’ll fall, immediately, into a bottomless pit of despair.

I struggle to get power over them.

But never come out on top.

In the summer of 2012 I call Amy to track down “that CD” I gave her. My friend just got dumped by the woman he planned to marry, and I’m desperate to throw him a life line.

He’s a broken-winger dinosaur and I am, once again, an inadequate emergency responder.

“I want to fix it, but I don’t know what to do for him.”

She reminds me there’s nothing I can do, for any of it. “It’ll hurt until it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

That’s the thing about feelings- The sad ones and the happy ones; the pure bliss and the darkest hours; the tingle of new love and the dull, low, burn of anxiety and dread. The ones you want to last forever and the ones you hope you never experience again-

You feel them, all of them. Until you don’t.

Lessons from Heather

I’ve been afraid of dying as far back as I can remember. Big time afraid. When I was little I would stay awake at night and get anxious about it. My palms would sweat and my heart would race as I’d try to understand the idea of not being. Not hugging my mom, not eating ice cream, not running up and down the soccer field. Not feeling, not laughing, not talking, not breathing. Not existing. I’d go over and over the thought of it in my mind and then shudder, feel cold in my body, and try to fall right to sleep so I didn’t have to consider the implications anymore.

A year ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As soon as I heard the news, I had that feeling again. My palms started to sweat and my heart raced. I burst into hysterical tears thinking about Heather not being. When I woke up the next morning I thought about dying, for the first time, in a new way. I thought about how Heather is the least deserving of terminal cancer of any single person I know on the planet. Then I felt anger. I thought about how Heather might not be at my wedding, help me raise my kids, or hula hoop at the next yoga festival. Then I felt sad. I thought about the beautiful and inspiring way in which Heather lives her life. Then I felt hopeful. I thought, dying is a damn good reason to: be nice to everyone, love unconditionally, forgive easily and openly and live fully in every single moment I have. Then I felt empowered.

She wrote to me soon after her diagnosis and said, “I’ve been handed my mortality. We all have one, I just know where mine is coming from. It’s time to be present.”

Holy Shit. This woman is recovering from major surgery in the face of a death sentence and she’s still my own personal buddha. Her spirit is magical.

Heather is one of my greatest teachers. I want to honor her tremendous life by sharing some of her lessons. Her lessons have shaped and enhanced the woman I am always trying to become. It is through her lessons that I know she will be inside of me. Forever.

love everyone like they’re your own family

I loved Heather immediately. We had an accidental run-in on adjacent yoga mats, and I was instantly taken by her. She had captivating energy. She surrounded me with love. She made deep and sincere eye contact. She hugged me like we did it every day.

Just after we met, I saw her in the Zuda Yoga lobby before class. She was glowing with her usual radiance, tempered by a gentle aura of deep relaxation. She told me she’d slithered her way to class after a massage had transformed her body into liquid. “Have you ever gotten a massage?” I hadn’t. “OH giiiirrrlll. It’s a must. I’m going to get you one.” She disappeared with her cell phone for five minutes and returned with a business card. “Call Tyler anytime, everything’s taken care of.”

Is this lady for real?

Completely real.

Her early gift to me was the first of many extraordinary moments and circumstances where Heather taught me how beautiful it is to love people. All people. Unconditionally. The way you love your own. She loves every, single, person, every, single, day, the way most of us do only on Thanksgiving or at our close relatives’ weddings. Heather taught me that it’s silly to hoard your love. That life is more abundant, more joyful and more fulfilling, the more love you give out. Heather opens her home, her heart, her wallet, her patience, her attention, to the whole world. She makes us feel safe, like we belong, like we are loved. No matter who we are or how we show up.

It is remarkable.

I have tried to emulate this in my own life and have observed to important things. 1) damn it’s hard sometimes to love everybody. 2) Hell yeah, it’s totally worth it.

On Partnership

My parents’ marriage was a disaster.  Even as a kid, years before they got divorced, it was easy for me to see how terribly wrong they were for each other. By the time I met Heather, I was pretty convinced marriage was one of the easiest ways to ruin your life.

Dave and Heather defy everything I thought I knew about partnership. The first night I spent in their home felt transformative. Mutual respect. Equity. Love. Communication. Support. All of these qualities permeated their every interaction. I couldn’t believe I was watching grown-up, married people behave this way towards each other. It blew my mind. The more time I spent with the Redfords, the more I admired the way they worked as a team: parenting, planning, cooking, laughing, decision-making.

In the summer of 2010, Heather and I sat on the porch of a Squaw Valley condo and talked about love and partnership. I told her how much I admired her relationship with Dave. I told her how much I had learned from them, just being a part of their lives. She told me that marriage is work. She told me that loving someone for your whole life and having to live that life, is nearly impossible. She told me that in a marriage, there are days, even entire time periods where you don’t even like your spouse. She also told me, that she loves Dave so deep in her soul and is so committed to him, somehow, it all works out. That conversation, and all of the moments I spent with the two of them, were important lessons about sacrifice, and forgiveness, and love, and commitment. Heather taught me that finding a partner, loving them and making it work is one of the most beautiful ways to spend a life.

Living a full life.

The first time I went to Heather’s house I was invited for “dinner.” “Come over in the early evening, bring wine if you want, otherwise just bring your awesome self.”

So, I figured: have a little food, a little conversation, I’ll probably be back home and in bed by 11.

That night, Steven made crab cakes. He’s her youngest. He was sixteen at the time. He looks exactly like Heather and I felt the same way I feel about her the moment he hugged me (as soon as I walked in). There were three different types of desserts. I must have had ten glasses of wine.

Early in the night we huddled in the family room and shared about our lives. I talked about law school and teaching yoga. Patrick (her oldest) talked about college applications and how he’d never even consider going to UCLA. We talked about Buddhism and high school and the perils of being an accountant. We talked and laughed and loved each other. I felt home.

Later we feasted on delicious food. We drank more wine. Had more conversation.

When dinner and dessert were over we hugged each other and laughed some more. In all of the euphoria we found ourselves dancing in the entry way to the house, singing our hearts out.

I probably crawled into bed that night at 3a.m.

The abundance of that night was characteristic of every experience we’ve ever had together. Heather taught me what it means to live a full life. She does everything with full attention, full energy, full heart, full love. She shines as her fullest self in every moment. She shines and shines and shines.

She took days off of work to ski with her kids in Tahoe. During his senior year of high school she took her son to see his favorite band at Red Rocks because “why the hell wouldn’t I?!!!” She meditates, practices yoga and drinks good wine. She is a divine goddess of laughter and spirit.

She is a constant reminder to me that this moment is all I have, so I better rock it the fuck out.

Heather gave me many gifts: emotional, spiritual and material. But her greatest gifts of all are her lessons on how to be in my life. I am a better woman, friend, partner and human because of her. She will live forever in my heart.

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.