May Day: Soften Your Heart

(Originally shared in an email newsletter on May 22, 2015 )

Nope, I can’t take ‘me’ seriously either!

Beads of sweat trickled across my face slowly with aching precision as I silently willed them to halt. They paused dramatically on my forehead but my preemptive victory was short lived as they haughtily dripped into my eyes. It stung enough to make me shut my eyes until the pain passed. Seconds before, I was glaring at my yoga teacher as he serenely smiled at our attempts to get into and maintain a deep forward split with arm balance. His serenity felt like an affront to my pain as I struggled not to fall forward, backward, or hell, to either side! The only thoughts in my head were colorful expletives. Namaste, indeed.

“Soften your heart,” He said simply to the room. More than the burning in parts of my body I did not know existed, the simple statement shocked me. I looked at him with new eyes, surprised and exposed. And closed it this time out of my own volition, afraid he might see the impact. Deep. Despite trying to find the breath to support myself in this challenging pose, I was in my head thinking of my technique and chasing a result. Get it right. The beautiful disconnect from the experience. Technically sound. Fully disengaged. His words made me realize this resistance inside me. Despite the conscious desire to master this pose as a precursor to the crow, I subconsciously did not ready myself. Funny how when something we expect does not manifest in the way we want, we start to close off in fear and defense; to reject before we can be rejected. Fail before we fail. As if shutting the potential down would mean having some semblance of control. Ha, control.

This was one of the few moments right when I had moved back to LA from NYC that is still seared in my memory. I felt the duality of the life I was living and the life I wanted to live. Bicoastal, I was literally and emotionally split between two coasts. Back East, I had the certainty of a career in corporate philanthropic consulting at one of the top leading global advertising and marketing communications services company in the world, my network of friends from college, and my bestfriend and boyfriend of seven years (definitely not in the order of priorities, duh). Out west, I had my family and this dream that I’d had since I could remember. One, which I fought to repress and avoid with all my will after graduating college.

Even in my corporate life, I never followed the money but the passion for the purpose I could serve through my work. l left marketing dollars and a pay cut to work with Fortune 500 companies to expand their community involvement strategies (read: take lots of money from companies to give to deserving nonprofits around the world in a sustainable way). Still, even though the altruism aligned with my core value, it only fulfilled some of my needs. Soon the nagging feelings of displeasure morphed into full blown disillusionment. When the recession hit, the ripple effect was everywhere but the visual representation of its force was blatant in NYC: whole floors of office buildings emptying with scared employees carrying the remains of their corporate careers in banker boxes; boxes once holding spreadsheets and invoices of their success. And there I was waiting for a sign from the Universe. Hoping that I’d be forced to make a choice, that it would be obvious. Maybe I’ll get a sign that I was meant to pursue acting. Permission or a pass. Ha. On eight of the ten clients in my division, I had the opposite dilemma of most of my peers: job security in the height of the recession. The part of me that wanted certainty could have easily acquiesced to that reality, but something within me kept speaking the truth: There is more coming. Listen. Go deeper. I want to say that the truth was easily recognizable and gentle but it shook out the dirt around my self-worth and very essence of my being. When I refused to give it audience, it showed up in the form of anxiety, fear, and deep melancholy. Fully functional and high performing in this state, there was no one to call me out. Well, except my mom. (A story for another time.) She just had two trick questions for me before I jumped: How far will you go? As far as I can & then some. How long will you try before you stop? Never.

Ultimately, I had to get honest about what I was willing to sacrifice in order to pursue the dream that made me feel the most complete. Choose something I love over all the things I’m good/great at doing. There were parts of ‘succeeding’ in the business that did not interest me: fame, excess, superficiality. In order to get over that, I spent the time to define what success would mean for me specifically: working with the best, creating excellent work in any genre, and constantly challenging myself to push my boundaries without compromising my integrity. I quit my corporate career and moved across country. I did not live happily ever after.

I had something to prove. To myself. About this pose. This new path I had chosen. How can softening my heart possibly help? This was, of course, coming from the person who finds the fastest person on her run to pass, finds the next fastest person to pass–rinse & repeat–until I’m done. Yet as someone who grew up as an academic delinquent, I’m never too good for the work. I took a deep breath & coaxed my mind to follow my heart; to relent. Every muscle followed. No one in the room was a competitor. The validation of doing it ‘right’ was immaterial. The thought of the next pose, the next goal, absent. To give into the moment fully. The attachment to achieving the pose once removed allowed my body to deepen. I felt stronger and more supported. That moment reminded me to keep relinquishing the notion that we need to earn the right to be worthy of the things we want or need. That it is always there within us, if we allow.

I think back to that moment when people who meet me or are in my life look at me & declare, “You’re brave.” Am I? I’m still discovering. Still learning. Still overcoming. Lately, that declaration had me thinking: beach volleyball. Yes, beach volleyball. Maybe it’s being the short, benchwarmer growing up, which never quite led me to identify myself as an athlete. Or having to play in a swimsuit. Or the cute boys who play. Or sucking & disappointing my teammates. Did I mention the cute boys who play? My friend throws these amazing beach parties during the summer and for a whole summer I spent watching from the sidelines. Torn between wanting to join to avoiding it at all costs. Balls in face is not a great look for the career, right? hahaha. In my scene study class at Warner Loughlin Studios, along with setting weekly career goals, we’ve pledged to identify and do the things that scare us. The more I tackled the fears, the less daunting the next one felt. The common side effects of panic, anxiety and dread diminished to discomfort or nervousness.

This summer (btw, it’s LA so summer started three months ago), I softened my heart to whatever made me hesitate, opened up to whatever could unfold, and played. I had fun, damn it! Imagine how our threshold expands as we continue to soften our hearts and do the things that scare us. How it deepens us no matter how subtle. It allows us to understand not only ourselves but the world beyond us. To understand the truth when we feel it within us. Letting go of results is not the same thing as giving up, but rather helps us lean in further and glean something more than a check mark on a to-do list. We’re not linear creatures, but rather ever expanding spheres. There is no end. This is our happily ever after. The privilege of living the life as who we are and doing what we love, whatever that may be for you. So expand.

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