Thursday, June 9, 2011

Frost in June?

I have written before about patterns and samskaras and about the differences about living on the underside of the Earth. I am pleased to report that I have learned to look right before crossing the street, and I almost always walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I would like to say that I am adapting fairly well, and to be honest, I worked hard at both of these upon arrival. I wanted to overcome the neural connections and create new neural pathways.

But there seems to be one difference to which my subconscious simply has not yet adapted. The seasons. On the spring/autumn equinox, I mentioned how weird it was that most of the world is celebrating moving into spring, as we are celebrating moving into Autumn. I thought I got it. I thought it was inside of me, but time and time again it catches me off guard. The first time I noticed it was when I started reading all the graduation speeches, and my gut reaction was, “but it’s fall, how are people graduating?”

Then this morning, on my walk down a very steep hill, I almost slipped . . . on frost. Yes, there is frost in June. There is nothing odd about frost in late autumn, but in my worldview, there is something that is strange about frost in June. I am starting to realize this samskara is deeper than I thought.

Then I realized that it is okay.

This is not the only brick wall I seem to have hit here. For the first time in five years, I have a flatmate (of course, in my prior life, this person would have been referred to as a housemate or roommate). I was not looking forward to sharing space with someone when I moved here, but I knew I would be able to do it. I was adamant, however, that I did not want to share groceries. This may seem odd to many people; I have a friend who tells me how much she wishes her housemates would share groceries, at least some of them. It may seem silly and a bit juvenile, and I can share the house and adapt to her cleaning schedule, but my food and cooking are personal and mean a lot to me, so I drew the line there.

Yoga teaches us to find our edge, but to not exceed it until we can do so safely. We also can learn that some bodies simply are not designed to move in particular ways, and the edge may take years to move, or it may never get surpassed. Generally, though with breath and time, our edge moves. We gain flexibility and strength, not only on the mat, but also in our lives. We learn that we can handle it better when the boss yells or the clients call complaining or there is an emergency hearing scheduled for the next day. We learn that the breath and time provide us the tools to move beyond our edge safely and effectively.

And then sometimes we cannot. That is okay . . . with a caveat.

My friend made a good point to me when we were discussing the groceries issue. She said, “part of being on a Fulbright is testing your boundaries.” Of course, our mutual friend in Kenya on her Fulbright is probably testing her boundaries a bit more than I am here in New Zealand, but the point is that my friend is right; expanding your horizons really is part of being on a Fulbright. So, does this mean that I am going to start sharing my groceries?

Not this week. Instead, I realized that I am already so far outside of my comfort zone by living with someone again, by having to look right, and by looking up to see a constellation that does not exist in the northern hemisphere, that my food, my comfort, needs to be mine.

Part of why I prefer not to share groceries is because I eat a bit differently than other people, and I worry that others will not like what I eat. So, I prefer to cook myself. But I took a first step – I made dinner for my flatmate and a friend one night. That dinner went well. It is a nice first step, but it was just that, a first step. I have not evolved into a grocery-sharing, flat dinners sort of person. At least not yet.

So why do I share all of this? Is it just so you think that you can know about my weird habits? No. The point is that recognizing we each have our limits is important, but so is recognizing that part of what keeps us from getting trapped and controlled by those limits is consciously choosing how to respond to those limits. Recognition is great, but then what do you do once you know? Do you want to stay there forever?

First, ask yourself why it is a limit. What is holding you back from moving past it? Be conscious about the reason. On the mat, this might be simple – you need to engage your core. Off the mat, it might take some more introspection. Second, ask whether it is supporting you or hindering you? Is it truly something you need at this moment, or is it something getting in the way of your growth? Third, if it is in the way, ask yourself if you are ready to move past it now. Even if you know you want to move beyond it, today might not be the right day. There may be other issues you need to address first. If not today, what you might need to do to make yourself ready? When might you be ready? Next week? Next month? Next year?

Then keep breathing. When you are ready, the breath will guide you to the next step of working through the samskara.

But most importantly, we have to recognize that just because we have our edge, our limits, and sometimes our brick walls, does not mean that our way is right and those who think otherwise are necessarily wrong. It may make for a difficult living situation, but it is not because either party is doing something bad or trying to hurt the other person. Instead, when we recognize that we have our edges and limits, it is vital that we recognize that others do as well.  Someone else might be struggling just as much as you are.

This means consciousness. It means consciously deciding whether we need our limits to keep us in some semblance of safety or if we can let them go and grow some more. Most importantly, the point is to see our patterns for what they are and to work with them without judging – not judging ourselves or others.

You never know, one day you might just wake up and find that frost in June is normal.

What are your limits? Do you consciously decide whether to hold them or let go of them?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. I'm glad you wrote about this: it is these "weird" particulars like groceries and flatmates that is so often where our real tests are. I like your discussion of our edges, and how they move at different paces, and certainly we have much to gain by testing boundaries. But I also think there is a lot to be said for being comfortable where we are perfectly comfortable with where our boundaries, exactly as they are. As an extreme example, I have a boundary where no one I'm in a relationship with is allowed to hit me. Boundaries aren't necessarily limits -- sometimes they are the key to living liberated lives. I like the idea you touch on of sort of dancing with our everyday kind of boundaries, though -- to see how they feel in different contexts. Like how your grocery boundary feels now you are in New Zealand compared to Arizona.

    The other thing this post has me thinking about is how it's one thing to acknowledge our own boundaries and another thing to communicate them to others. That part is often the hardest for me. I have challenges with my roommate/landlady too, and I feel I've pushed on this communication piece a lot. Especially when it is amorphous -- not so much a boundary on, say, cleaning, but one on the tone she talks to me with.

    Tricky business, these lives of ours are.

  2. Anna, thank you. You have articulated the issues so wonderfully. And yes, I think that our boundaries can create space for us as well. I had a strict teacher once who said she was doing us a favor by having firm rules. We knew the limits. It would be unfair if those rules changed all the time. I think she is absolutely right, and it relates to our own lives as well. When we know what our own internal "rules" are, our boundaries and limits, then we can live our lives with them. The key is to never settle, to reevaluate at times and ensure that our boundaries have not shifted.

    And yes, communication is key . . . and the hardest part, at least in my experience. Thanks so much for the beautiful response!