Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Using All the Tools in our Toolbox

Life has a funny way of forcing us to learn lessons even when we ignore them over and over again. When I was in Yoga Teacher Training, one of our teachers analogized yoga to a toolbox, a toolbox for all sorts of various aspects of life, from the physical to the spiritual. We can choose to access them at various times and places. When confronted with others and their circumstances, we have a toolbox full of ways to help or simply support them.

For those of us who practice yoga, this makes a lot of sense. Asana and meditation and breathing techniques can bring us to new and deeper understandings of a variety of life experiences, if not all of them. But even for devout yogis living at an ashram, there are other tools in the toolbox. For example, when we are meeting up with a friend, we have cell phones. When we have work to accomplish across the Pacific Ocean, we have email. Some of us use hiking or running or boxing to relieve our pent up stress.

The point is that we are not only lawyers or yogis, but we have a diverse set of life experience that can be tools in a variety of new experiences. Whether we are trained as paramedics or Olympic athletes or lawyers, our everyday experiences are understood through whatever experiences we have had until that point in life. When we encounter issues for which we have been specifically trained, our toolbox is there to help us navigate through it.

But we have to use the tools.

That is the lesson the universe seems to be trying to teach me. Over and over again. This past weekend, I finally understood. And it was a moment when so many of the tools in my toolbox could have been utilized and were not.

The short story is that I met a friend, who had no cell phone, in San Francisco. We were having an amazing time, but then we saw a boat coming into the bay, and she got up on a wall to see it, but with my sprained ankle, I could not climb, so I told her I would walk down to the end of the pier to see it. It was on Pier 39, one of the busiest places in San Francisco, over Memorial Day Weekend. What could possibly go wrong? 

Yep, we got separated. I stayed calm for a few minutes, but as the minutes ticked by, the panic sunk in, and I was sure I had lost my friend in San Francisco. I knew we would eventually find each other, but the panic grew and grew. After about 20 minutes of frantically searching (and calling my mommy), I went to the security booth, and as I was describing my missing friend, she walked by.

Of course, the story has a happy ending (and San Francisco showed off its utter beauty the entire time), but the lesson finally hit home. We have our toolboxes for a reason, and we cannot leave out any part of it. As I felt myself getting more and more freaked out, I felt the yoga bucket emptying faster and faster. I felt the downward spiral, but I saw no way around it. That could have been the toolbox lesson enough, but with my current job, I get that lesson on a daily basis. No, this lesson came from a job I had almost 12 years ago.

I have posted before about the divergent course my life has taken, from basketball player, to musician, to lawyer, to yogi. But one piece I left out, which ironically is the reason I wanted to go into lawyering for children, is that I used to be a camp counselor, actually a director of a summer camp with over 150 children in my care each day.

I used to take 150 children to San Francisco in the age before cell phones. And these were children, easily lost, and easily distracted. Yet we managed. We had contingency plan after contingency plan. We knew what to do when something did not go as planned, and the one time we needed it that I can remember vividly, it worked perfectly. So where was my contingency plan with my friend?

The universe has wanted me to check into my toolbox a lot recently. But it seems to be coming so often in the yoga realm. It is so easy to be focused on only one set of tools when our lives are full of so many. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can help us clear our minds enough to remember all the tools we have, whether they be asana or meeting points. The overwhelm of life can blind us to so much, but we all contain such diverse and bountiful experiences that can guide is in so many aspects of our lives.

We live in a world in which we like to put each other, and ourselves, into boxes. I am a lawyer. I am a yogi. I am a ________. But we are so much more. We are all unique individuals, full of experiences that can guide each and every moment of our lives. The important thing is to remember the tools are there when we need them, and that, for me, is where the yoga comes in. What are your tools? How do you use them in new ways?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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