Missives from the Mat #17: Thanking the Person who Knocked the Wind Out of You

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Yesterday I attended my husband’s extended family holiday party. In one of the group photos, I tried to count 67 heads. Give or take three, because I didn’t use a sharpie on my computer screen to mark them off, I think 67 is close; it didn’t include the photographer and the toddlers who ran to her side as she was shooting.

After that I attended a smaller version of the same, where my husband’s immediate family gathered for an after-party party. That was nice and we had a good time goofing off.

When we came home, we watched “Planet of the Apes” with Mark Walhberg. I asked my two older sons to watch it and just go with it, to commit to the willing suspension of disbelief that sci-fi cinema so often requires. They were full of comments and questions afterward, mostly directed to the social / racial / political / classist implications of the movie. My older son thought the messages were profound.

We all headed to bed. I tidied up the kitchen for a few minutes.

I encountered my son on my spot on my bed, talking with his father about a recent development in his life; he and his dad were parsing it out, mostly venting and sharing. He’s under a lot of pressure: senior year, college applications, social interests, athletic pursuits, and just a general sense of his growing up, which can weigh heavily on anyone’s shoulders.

I sprayed lavender. We talked about 20 more minutes.

He pushed off for his room.

At 12:14, ten seconds later, I heard my bedroom door open. He had some things on his mind, that just flew back into his awareness, completely uninvited. Stories on Twitter which bothered him. We talked about it, headed downstairs and I gave him some warm milk and a melatonin, which he consumed on the couch next to me.

He asked if meditation would help quiet his mind, help him to focus. Yes, it absolutely would, I said. I didn’t propose anything right there, I just started talking about how placing our hand over our heart, helps us feel a connection to our essential and physical being. How the heart shows our pulse and how when we breathe in, that our chests rise and that how when we exhale, the chest drops, bringing our hand closer once again to the vibration of our heart’s chambers. I talked about how when we breathe in, our bodies have a natural pause, ever so slight, that recalibrate our nervous system, and that when we exhale, if we can count to just one more heart beat, that we’ve begun to elicit the relaxation response our nervous systems so desperately crave. What’s the sign of our craving? When our minds start to spin out of control and we emotionally react. But ego tells us that we just need to think more. A super-active mind, to me, anyhow, is Spirit’s plea to just sit and consciously breathe.

I looked over at him in the dark beside me. The string of Christmas lights behind me gently casting a glow on him. His eyes were closed. His hand was over his heart. His jaw loosened when I suggested he place his tongue behind his upper teeth and release the lower jaw.

So I continued speaking in a modulated tone about the breath, our ability to find it, connect with it or give it a quality of speed, fluidity, or texture, in order to let him sink deeper into his restoration.

I continued for about five more minutes. Talking slowly and quietly, keeping him just in the zone of near sleep, the “twilight” of his consciousness.

He gently opened his eyes and sat up and said he was ready for bed. I followed him upstairs, sprayed lavender in his room and closed his door.

It was 12:42 when I slipped back into my bed. I was ready for sleep too. I had calmed both of us to a somniferous state.

When I woke around 9 this morning, I opened my email and discovered that someone had written to me over night. I am thrilled I turned my phone on Airplane mode (as I always do each night) and did not check my phone before I went to sleep, because if I had waited just 14 minutes more, I would have received the comment to this blog via email.

It wasn’t a nice comment. It was a forceful character assassination based on a post I wrote about my decision to stop teaching yoga on Monday evenings.

Your psychopathic-rant pretty much says everything about your character as a human being. I have attended your classes as well as many of the people you refer to and blame for YOUR issues

I will concede in that post that I wrote at length, so he’s got me at “rant”; (but I don’t think it was psychopathic, it was not violent, nor did it demonstrate a chronic mental disorder). I will concede that I shared some details which maybe weren’t especially necessary. Maybe he meant psychotic? Who knows. But it’s a blog, it’s my blog and it’s my perspective, my memory, my experience. I will also concede that I have issues — have you read my blog? But I really try to work through and learn from them.

When I saw his name, and the attached email address WordPress requires of all commenters, I shuddered a little. This was no troll in Russia. The author is a man who actually continued the balance of his classes with me even though he had started with another teacher entirely (I took over from her mid-session, as she was busy with other pursuits and was eager to move on).

I remember this person. He was kind, polite and mostly appropriate. When I shadowed the departing teacher one winter evening in March, three people, including me and he, attended her class. Snow was gathering on the trees outside the room. She and I had agreed that I would take over the classes, but she hadn’t announced she was leaving. Likewise, she decided to not share my identity. I wanted to attend so I could see how she ran her classes as I had yet to teach an adult yoga class though I’d attended hundreds. The snow was collecting on the branches outside, casting a spectral glow into the dark space during savasana.

Afterward, I said to her, “That was a lovely class, thank you so much,” and then he (the commenter) sort of stepped in and said, “Bipsy Carmichaelango* she’s the best, no one is as good as she is. I love Bipsy. She’s amazing.”

And I thought, Great. She’s leaving. I’m taking over. Shit. 

It was the way he said it though, that I recall felt a little ‘off’ to me. No matter, I let it go. Don’t be weird, I said to myself of myself, maybe he’s known her for years (even though she’s not been teaching this class a full year). Maybe she’s his mom, or aunt. 

I’m guessing that when I showed up on my mat in the teacher’s position two weeks later, after she made the announcement, that seeing me again might’ve caught his breath.

Mrrrp. 

When I took over, there were three weeks until Spring Break. He took at least two classes with me then never came back; a fellow legacy student said he’d moved from the area. But when I taught, he was polite, grateful even, and one time mentioned how my slow and methodical introduction into a pose was very helpful for his low back, which I recall Bipsy saying had been reconstructed or something. He was never unpleasant.

I have no issues with people leaving and not coming back. I was new to adults. I was a little terrified and I’m sure a bit stiff. I was also to their system: I changed the way payments were made, I changed the class time. My appearance changed a lot: I was NOT THE PREVIOUS INSTRUCTOR: I was me. Blame me? No, blame yourself because of expectations.

After reading his attack though, I wrote back, not instantly because I know that yields little in terms of processing. I made a cup of coffee and waited about 30 minutes. My response was likely 5x the length of his comment, and I was sort of a bitch, but I also softened, because in my heart I know it takes a lot to get so riled up at someone you haven’t experienced in a long time to spin out and go to the lengths to register your email address with the blog provider to leave a comment via mobile carrier (they save lots of identification info on WordPress). The email address he left is the same one I have from when I took over the class. When I read his comment, it was like I was hit from behind. I felt instantly and intentionally abused.

I thought, Christ. This guy moved away and almost two years later wants to hunt me from the ether? WTF?

  

People do what they do for all the reasons they do them. Sometimes those reasons are utter mysteries, especially to the person committing them. For me, to wake from a great sleep after a lovely day to the venom this person decided to spew at me, for no reason whatsoever, was jarring.
I can’t comprehend his reason. It’s not mine. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen him. It’s been almost 18 months since the people he knew from yoga took a class from me. After I took over that evening class, the “roll call” changed comPLETEly. The only thing that occurs to me about how or why this man was so obviously hunted me down is that something reignited. Someone talked about me. Someone talked about my blog. Something set off, and that something is HIS.

I’m not stupid: I am a member of this community in which I live. I am actively engaged with it on a handful of fronts: academic, parental, social, outreach, political, and the yoga. I also write. Publicly, as in this here post on this here blog. I am for the most part, an open book: I have no real secrets and most of my crimes are not that fascinating: speeding tickets in my 20s, ill-begotten behavior in my college years… standard stuff. No arrests, no convictions (other than the speeding tickets), no jail time (other than the emotional prison I occasionally place myself in). I worked at a bank during college and my fingerprints have been captured for that, and then for the security clearance job I took as a technical writer after college, and most recently as a yoga teacher for children. My fingerprints are on file.

After I read the comment this morning, I didn’t feel guilt, so much as vulnerability. I felt a little guilty that I’d clearly done something to set this person off, but I know in my heart that it’s his, not mine. I suppose if I’m guilty of anything, it’s trying to live an emotionally healthy life. It’s an attempt at discernment, to learn over time what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. That’s how I teach yoga: I can help you with yoga things… not so much with life things, unless I know you off the mat. And the help has to be an exchange, and it usually is: that’s the value of relationships. When it’s NOT an exchange, then we feel depleted. I try to avoid depletion now, I try — even in shitty situations — to find a silver lining.

I try to be professional, complete and courteous in all I do. Do I get along with everyone? No. Absolutely not. I have a big mouth, and I shoot it off when warranted. But never without cause; I actually have to be provoked. These days, it’s pretty hard to provoke me, as I’ve got a pretty thick skin and some important things lot on the line: my employment as a yoga instructor to children, to adults at health clubs and my commitment to be a kind and nonreactive human being on this planet, which lately has been all too off-kilter.

Only after about six hours of digesting and processing that comment and talking with my husband and kids about it, was I able to come to some sense of gratitude for it. I want to thank him, sort of, for being so abrasive, because as a result of his note, I ran an inventory of all the things I’ve done in my recent life and tried to discern if I did them for glory or if I did them for love.

I’ve determined that for some of those things, sure, I did them for vanity: I wanted to be seen, I wanted to be cheered and thanked — who doesn’t do things for external reward? That helps us keep going. But as I moved into some of those more vainglorious pursuits, I transformed, and I ended up doing all of them because it fed my soul and helped me to better understand my purpose. As a teacher, I have been graced with teaching people who present many measurable neurological conditions ranging from ADHD to epilepsy, or migraine, crippling anxiety, or Tourette’s syndrome. Physically, I was confronted by hypotonia, spinal stenosis and hip replacements and lumbar fusion. Having those students made me a better teacher.

All the legacy people who decided not to stay after I took over the classes did so in reaction to my policy that paying upfront for a certain number of yoga classes within a defined period was a tangible commitment to one’s health. Those who were committed kept coming. In other words: we are adults here, no special exceptions, you pay you play, no free guests without notice (I don’t care how the other teacher ran it, she’s not me) lest the place run amok. Time’s up: I’m damned tired of defending this position. People don’t like change and they like being coddled, but I’m not a coddler. I’ll get in the dirt with you, but I’ll soon encourage you to get out of it.

I have boundaries. People generally don’t like them, I have learned. I have experienced people actually cringe like a vampire from garlic when I mention the word “boundary” or “accountability.” Especially regarding yoga: people like to assume a yoga teacher has no discernment, that we just float and take on peoples’ stuff as though it’s our own, because y’know, yoga and sutras, and goodness, and kumbaya… No.

What today’s nastygram and the pursuant self-examination showed me is that my gut read is usually right and that when things start to feel familiar in an unhealthy way (for me: codependence) that they will continue to feel that way until I carve out some boundaries and self respect. I’m only as strong as my boundaries.

So while my come around from the comment I received is likely NOT the intention of the man who sent it, I’m pretty pleased with it. Years ago, this would have taken a few days or maybe weeks to really get over.

*Bipsy Carmichaelango is not her real name.

Thank you.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

5 responses »

  1. “I have boundaries. People generally don’t like them, I have learned. I have experienced people actually cringe like a vampire from garlic when I mention the word “boundary” or “accountability.” ”

    Ha! aint it the truth? I have encountered this more and more recently. Its not just for yoga teachers. There is a distinct unwillingness demonstrated by all sorts of people to respect another boundaries within our culture I think. Resistance to accepting that a person can even have boundaries. I think its no accident. Its all part of our show and tell, social media culture. There has been a certain grooming over time.

    Private realms? What is that? Twitter, FB, Instagram, drones, texts, everything must be exposed. Instantly. Boundaries? They must be for people that have something to hide right?. If you see something say something. Gawd forbid a person see something, consider it and keep their thoughts private.

    None of this is a commentary on blogging in general or your blog by the way! Just my observation that we are living in a time where boundaries as a rule are seen as too individualistic and therefore suspect. Unseemly in the face of the aims of the collective “common good.”

    A facile, immature and narcissistic society will naturally loathe personal boundaries.

    • I agree with you; I hadn’t thought of it in the larger context as you have as a societal draw / lure. Im not an exhibitionist, by any stretch… The things I end up writing are instances where I see a measure of growth in myself and then I see how it might be translatable as a post, plus: I get it off my chest. I can’t tell you how light I felt when I write I’m damned tired of explaining all this. I worked my butt off to learn about teaching yoga and how to teach people who presented with those anomalies. I’m also freaking tired of talking about yoga. I’m just in a place I guess, where I’m feeling like it’s time to make a tactical change in my writing life or just hang it up, at least here. I still can’t get over the fact that I’m STILL dealing with ripples of those people I’ve not taught in 18 months. It serves me right: I write about it a month ago, so clearly I put it out there.

      Grr. Fuck blogging. Honestly.

      Xo

  2. I would happily explain my comment in a nonaggressive e-mail if you like. I don’t have your address anymore, so send me a test message.

    • I would like to publicly apologize for my original commet. Molly and I have exchanged email’s and have come to an understanding of one another. Happy Holidays to her family and the followers of her blogs.

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