(For the month of November 2011, I am embarking on a 30-Day Challenge to finish a final rewrite of my young adult novel. To do so, I am taking a hiatus from posting my Tuesday morning flyingnotscreaming essays. Essays will resume the first week of December, 2011. In the meantime, I am posting a weekly Hiatus Report on my progress during my 30-Day Challenge. See the essay “My New 30-Day Challenge” for more information.)
I have practiced yoga for over twenty years. I am pretty flexible except when it comes to backbends. After all these years I still struggle with any pose that requires me to arch my back. This is especially true of Camel Pose, a pose where you sit with your shins flat on the floor and bend backwards to place your hands on your heels.
Whenever I attempt Camel Pose my breathing becomes shallow and my heart races. I often feel panicked and close to tears. I can only hold the pose for five seconds at a time.
“I really don’t like Camel Pose,” I told my yoga instructor. “It freaks me out.”
She smiled slightly and nodded her head. “They say that backbends are an indication of our mental and emotional flexibility.”
Which was a nice way of saying that I lack flexibility, maybe not in body, but in my mind and heart. She suggested I add more backbends to my morning yoga routine. I try, but it takes a certain amount of bravery to confront what is difficult, and some days I lack the courage to offer my open chest to the universe.
Last week, I attempted a different kind of Camel Pose. I began a 30-Day Challenge to rewrite a young adult novel that has been languishing on my laptop for far too long. This is the month to finally draw this project to a successful close, even though that idea makes my breath quicken and my heart beat loudly. Before I began to write last Tuesday, I consulted my calendar and mapped out how many chapters I needed to complete per week to finish by the end of November. And that is when I started to panic. For the first time I realized that my kids had a full five days off school for Thanksgiving Break plus another free day for the Veteran’s holiday. On Fridays my girls get out of school at 12:30 shorting me even more writing hours. Those six days, plus another day that I’d already committed to teach a program in their classroom left me with only fifteen days to complete fifteen chapters. I already knew that the middle chapters need a good overhaul and would require at least two or three days each at the minimum.
I could feel my 30-Day Challenge falling apart before it even started. I knew that to meet my rewrite challenge within a month, I would have to either get up in the wee hours of the morning, shortening my already too short sleep, or I would need to compromise the quality of my rewrite and hurry through the process. I could feel the pressure of my goal pushing against me unpleasantly. I could taste failure and the residue of disappointment in my mouth.
This tight box I’d built around my goal and myself felt familiar. I become so attached to and obsessed with following the rules I establish for reaching my goal that I burn myself out and fall short of crossing the finish line. I lose sight of the goal because of the challenge.
But this time around I wanted to break the pattern. I wanted to get this novel done.
While I studied the impossible fifteen day schedule, it occurred to me that the whole point of the challenge was not to rewrite it in fifteen days but to rewrite it well. That realization cut to the heart of the matter, and I decided it was time to get brave and bend backwards. To make this challenge work I might need to extend my hiatus from the flyingnotscreaming essays from four weeks to five or six. My 30-Day Challenge might need to become a 35-Day Challenge or a 40-Day Challenge or longer. And just like that, the pressure eased. Not completely, I still intend to complete this story in the shortest amount of time possible, but I will adapt the challenge to make it workable so I don’t end up abandoning the whole thing in frustration and rename it the 30-Plus Day Challenge.
Once I opened myself to the idea of adapting the length of the challenge, everything started to shift. I was becoming more flexible not only in how I proceeded towards my goal, but in other areas of my life as well.
As I began my yoga session this morning, I considered how much I have enjoyed this 30-Day Challenge so far. I reached for my toes and thought, “If I could just tidy up a couple of other situations that were nagging at me, I’d feel completely happy.”
Suddenly, it dawned on me that like my rewrite, I was losing sight of the goal because of the rules of the challenge. For whatever reason, I believe that for me to be happy ALL the areas of my life must be happy at once. Completely balanced happiness without an ounce of darkness. As I stretched my arms upwards, I considered another possibility. If the goal was happiness, didn’t even a smidgen of happiness count? Wasn’t that what gratitude journals and seeking pleasure were all about? Focusing on the happiness that was right in front of us even if at first glance it didn’t seem like much? Because the truth is that completely balanced happiness doesn’t happen all that often or last for very long. But bits and pieces of happiness are there for the taking each and every day. I just need to be flexible so I can see them and enjoy them as being enough.
Feeling happy and brave, I sat with my shins on the floor and reached backwards for my heels. My heart raced a little and I had to take a deep breath to calm myself. It wasn’t the best camel pose in the history of the world, but it was a courageous one. And I am beginning to learn that often bravery trumps being the best when you look at it with a certain degree of flexibility.