burning doubt – lessons from a yoga mala

At 5:30 this morning, I offered up all of my doubt to the forces of balance and harmony in the universe.  Then, along with about 10 other women, I performed 108 sun salutations – a yoga mala to mark the Summer Solstice.  At the precise moment I was beginning to feel nagging doubt about recent huge changes and choices in my life, the yoga mala brought me to a place of ecstatic surrender, where the only thing guiding me was trust in myself and my own instincts.  Lesson learned.

108 of these: surya namaskar a

The best way, it seems, to shake off doubt is to challenge oneself in new and perhaps peculiar ways.  When I returned home this morning, sweaty and blissed-out, my husband asked, appropriately, “So you just did the same pose 108 times?”   I alluded to the flow of postures in the sun salutation, and then thought, well, there’s the rub.  It’s in The Flow.

Two weeks ago, I resigned from a job I’ve had for nearly nine years.  At first, I was elated.  I felt strong and clear-headed about my decision.  I’d been frustrated and discontented with my work for years, and had been longing for a change but felt paralyzed at the thought of trying to make something different happen in my professional life.  I was stuck, which for me is one of the worst feelings imaginable.

Then Earl arrived.  There is no better way than welcoming a child to precipitate change.  Like it or not, everything changes.  Sleep schedules, free time, attention spans, priorities: all of it.

It didn’t take long to realize that what I wanted more than anything was to be with Earl all the time, to devote myself completely to loving and nurturing him.  I didn’t want to give up my career as an attorney forever: just for now, like a sabbatical (oh, how I envy my sister her career in academia at times!)  In this moment, in these precious, fleeting early months of Earl’s life, what I want is to give myself over to this monumental love, this task of caring for this beautiful new being.

The realization came almost immediately after we brought Earl home.  Still, I fought it for months, pushing ahead with finding a childcare provider, while simultaneously moving my return to work date back as far as it could conceivably go.  (At the beginning, six months at home seemed like an eternity.  How quickly things change.)  I see now that I was struggling with my competing impulses – of wanting to be home with Earl full-time, and of wanting to preserve my sense of identity as a professional.  I always assumed that I’d be a “working mom,” (what a ridiculous phrase), so when it struck me that my heart was telling me otherwise, I felt a kind of tearing at my sense of self.

Once the decision to resign was made, I was resolute.  I talked to countless people about it, and never waivered in my certitude that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for Earl, for our whole little family.  (I cannot over-state the importance and benefit of having a fully supportive spouse.)  The day I strode into my office, copies of my resignation letter in hand, I was triumphant.  Few things have ever felt more right.

But somehow, last week, after the rush of finally doing this thing that I’d dreamed about for so long, and which promised to give me the freedom to fully devote myself to my son, doubt began to creep in.  I suddenly saw an endless stretch of days ahead, Earl and I lying with books and toys on our bed, laughing and babbling and snuggling together, with no end in sight.  Would I get bored?  Would Earl?  By choosing to leave my job and stay home with him, was I denying him the chance to socialize and interact with other children?  Would I end up smothering him with too much love and attention?  Was I making a bad choice based on my years of anger and sorrow about not being able to have a child, rather than on what is best for the child I finally do have?  Would he get sick of me before he even started pre-school?  Would I go slowly nuts, transforming from attorney to desperate housewife?

In these new days as a stay-at-home mom, I have a lot of time with my thoughts.  I have Earl, and the dog, and NPR, but there are long, quiet moments, when I find myself drifting, missing the rush and bustle of Center City (well, not when it’s 100 degrees), feeling adrift in my new role.  Doubting what I am doing.

But yesterday, things began to shift.  I started the day by sleeping through my 5 AM alarm for my 6 AM yoga class, which left me feeling disgruntled and annoyed.  Then I quickly remembered the Yoga Mala, and rushed to pre-register.  I recognized the backed-up, uncomfortable feeling that had been plaguing me for days, and sensed that 108 sun salutations might be just the ticket to getting unstuck.

Then, I started imagining the moment in the future when I will be ready to go back to work, and thought about the kind of environment I want for Earl when he’s ready to start socializing and learning in an out-of-home setting.  I did some research on childcare centers in our area, and found a few that are highly regarded and that look promising.  Awhile later, I stumbled across the latest blog entry from a beloved young cancer sister, which left me feeling so humbled and grateful, and reminded me of how inter-connected my life is with the lives of so many others – even when I feel like I am drifting on a suburban, air-conditioned island, alone with my infant son.

And this morning, at 4:30 AM, I woke with purpose.  It was time to do something daring, something just for myself, that would take me back to my center.  I was waking before dawn on the hottest, longest day of the year, to remind myself that anything is possible, and that my instincts are powerful.

The mala was, as promised, transformative and vigorous.  Halfway through our 108 sun salutations, I was drenched with sweat, my eyes stinging, my newly cropped hair hanging in my face as my headband slid off.  Halfway through, I felt my belly start to churn with hunger.  Not once, though, did I lose my focus.  Not once did I feel like I couldn’t make it to the end.  As we created more and more energy, I grew lighter, and more assured, and my doubt burned away.

I came home to my son and husband feeling completely right.

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5 Responses to burning doubt – lessons from a yoga mala

  1. Monique says:

    Mmmm, I love reading your blog. Congratulations on the big step… I also just finished reading an article in the Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. What confusion inside my head. But I’m so happy for you that you have worked it out in yours.

  2. Emily says:

    Maybe the problem is the way our society defines what “it all” is. In reality, whatever “it” is, is probably different for everyone. My choice to resign was about so many things – the legacy of my illness, the fact that Earl came to us through adoption, my years of frustration in the office. No doubt we are all struggling in our own unique way to get to the place where we are most at peace with the balancing act.

  3. Allison D says:

    I’ve been wanting to tell you how thrilled I am for you that you made the decision to make this change. I’m cheering you on!!! xo

  4. Suzanne says:

    As long as we stay in the moment, we can trust ourselves to make the best decision for the circumstances we’re in now. Worrying about the future that remains unknown doesn’t help us to make our best choices. I’m just starting to understand that, I think. You and your delightful family will figure out everything in its time.

    I’ve found yoga so helpful too, though I’m drawn to something far less strenuous than multiple salutations–restorative yoga, which emphasizes getting the right pillows in the right places!

  5. Chad Royce says:

    Beauifully written, Emily.

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