I have been having an interesting struggle lately. It seems to revolve around my mind/body/spirit connection. Before I started my yoga teacher training I was driven by my mind, or more specifically, my thoughts. I was a very intelligent person. And I pretty much thought that my mind was my self. If I had a thought, I acted on it. Analyzing the situation, making a decision and then acting swiftly. That was my focus.
My body was a secondary priority. Something I focused on whenever it started to fail me, or slow me down from doing whatever I wanted to do. It would get my attention if I started to gain weight because my clothes wouldn't fit anymore and that would make me feel unattractive. Then I would join Weight Watchers and start exercising more regularly to force my body back into submission.
My spirit was something that I never really considered back then. Spirit was associated with religion and that is something I wanted to avoid in my life. Once I started yoga school, we talked a lot about the mind/body connection and how you could leverage that connection in your yoga practice to access your spirit. Over those months of studying, I became enlightened to the concept of spirit. I learned that it was not something separate from myself (i.e. the holy spirit up there in the sky) but something within myself that I could tap into through meditation.
At the same time, I really began to understand my anxiety and how my mind and my body exacerbate my condition. My mind races with thoughts and starts to worry about the future while I am trying to enjoy the present moment. And even if my thoughts are at rest, my body often interrupts my peaceful experience of the day with random interjections, like a warming sensation in my chest or a surging heartbeat for no apparent reason.
Over time, my solution has been to create some separation from my mind and body. In order to feel at peace, I have to remind myself that I am not my thoughts. If I wake up and can't fall back to sleep, I let my thoughts race and just observe them until they are finished and let me go back to sleep. And when my heart starts pounding or my chest feels tingly, I try to breathe and wait until it subsides.
Even the way I talk about them has changed. Instead of saying I was up all night thinking about this, that or the other thing, I will say "my mind was doing a lot of thinking last night." Or I will tell Mark Johnson that my mind woke up and it needs to let me go back to bed. All of these little tricks help me to manage my anxiety and keep a safe distance between my anxiety and my true self.
Lately though, I have been wondering about how this approach fits within the mind/body/spirit connection. Is it ok that I am separating these three components of myself? Should I be working instead to find some sort of integration between my mind, body and spirit? Or at least a peaceful coexistence?
Yesterday was New Year's Eve. It was my second New Year's celebration with Mark Johnson. Last year, we sat on the couch and wrote in our journals, made some yummy snacks, talked about our wishes and dreams for the coming year, and shared a long lingering kiss at midnight as the ball dropped in Times Square. It was, quite simply, perfect.
This year it was our turn to have Mark Johnson's daughter with us on New Year's Eve. We all agreed that we wanted to stay in, but we weren't sure exactly what we wanted to do. We thought she might want to invite a friend over so she would have someone to hang out with, but all of her friends were already busy with their family events and parties. So it was going to be just the three of us.
As it got closer, I started to get nervous. (Or, I should say that my mind started to get nervous.) Even though the three of us hang out together all the time, New Year's Eve is different. It is just around high school age that New Year's Eve starts to take on a new meaning and you feel pressure to be out doing something "cool." Yet you are not able to drive and not quite at the age where you can actually go out and do anything. I didn't want her to feel like a third wheel at our celebration.
When Zoe Johnson is around, I often move over to the chair so she can have the couch. When we watched Christmas movies a few weeks ago, I sat on my own while she snuggled under the blanket and fell asleep on Mark Johnson's shoulder. Teenage girls need time to be close to their Dad, so I happily give up my spot for her. But at the same time, I didn't want to feel like the third wheel at my own New Year's Eve celebration either.
I talked to Mark Johnson about it when we were making our final plans for New Year's and he totally understood. We want to give her a great experience, but we also want to be ourselves.
"Maybe there is no third wheel," he said supportively. "Maybe it's a tricycle."
"I really like that idea," I said, pausing to appreciate how Mark Johnson always seems to know how to make me feel better in any situation. "And who are we kidding? We both know that Zoe is the front wheel on this tricycle!"
And he was right. We are a tricycle. When it came to New Year's Eve, it felt like any other weekend. We all hung out together and spent some time cleaning our spaces in the apartment. Then we made a whole bunch of yummy snacks and watched a movie. When it was getting close to midnight, I suggested that we all try to squeeze onto our tiny two-person couch and watch the ball drop together. And we toasted the New Year, with Zoe Johnson taking her rightful place in the center of the couch.
Thinking about my mind/body/spirit connection kind of reminds me of the tricycle analogy. All three of them are separate and distinct, yet they all come together to form something greater than any of the individual parts. I am not my thoughts. And I am not my body. But those two things are what grounds my spirit to this earth. They are the back wheels of the tricycle. And my spirit is the front wheel.