When Life Invites You to Cry in the Stairwell
A few weeks ago, I felt crushed by despair after a big disappointment at my (other) work. As the (part-time) Wellness Administrator at Drexel University, I oversee employee wellness opportunities for 5,000 people who have become so incredibly dear to my heart.
In the treatment room, I work singularly, one-on-one, and at Drexel, I touch 5,000 people all at once (!!!) every time I offer a new event, program, or initiative. The two seem very different sometimes, but both are aligned with my vision of helping people understand what health and wellness looks like for them, as an individual, and helping them understand how to take small steps that will help them live a life they truly love.
I put in a request, back in May, for a professional development opportunity to become a yoga instructor, with the hopes of integrating yoga classes into our regular mix of wellness events.
I was EXCITED and scared and then excited again. When I first made the suggestion, I thought that the proposal was accepted, but then I learned that it was pending further approvals. After a lot of back and forth, the day before the deadline to sign-up, I finally got the ultimate answer: No.
I’d been turned down last year for a similar certification, and the disappointment seemed to accumulate as I felt the growing lump in my throat.
I had already made up my mind to sign-up on my own this time if I got a second no, but I felt worn down and confused by the mixed messages and the back and forth.
When I got that final no, I was unexpectedly sad. I knew that I would be disappointed, but I didn’t think that I would experience that level of rejection and let down, with almost-immediate hot, steamy heat-wave tears streaking down my cheeks. I walked away from my desk and ended up crying for 15 minutes in the stairwell.
The stairwell in my building is unbearably hot. So after 15 minutes I ended up continuing my festival of tears in the bathroom, until I felt steady enough to return to my seat.
Part of what helped me get back to myself was this email from my weekly Pema Chodron email listserv of “heart advice”. (Which I strongly recommend if you want a dose of reality AND an emotional lift-up once a week in your email.) I checked my email in the stuffy stairwell, in an attempt to get a break from the continuous tears!
The title of the email (appropriate enough for that very moment) was:
“Changing our Relationship to Pain”
“On a very basic level, all beings think that they should be happy. When life becomes difficult or painful, we feel that something has gone wrong. This wouldn’t be a big problem except for the fact that when we feel something’s gone wrong, we’re willing to do anything to feel okay again. Even start a fight.”
~excerpted from Practicing Peace, by Pema Chodron, page 51
The cooling air and the waning of the light is reminding me that we are shifting into Autumn now. Autumn is a take-no-prisoners season. Autumn will take you down deep into the parts of yourself that you may not enjoy. Just as the sap moves into the trunk of the tree to protect its precious essence from the ravages of winter, in Autumn we start to move downwards and into ourselves.
As I stood in that hot, dusty stairwell, I realized that I definitely did not want to fight back or fight against what was happening right then. And I also didn’t want an apple turnover (which my partner Hanbit almost immediately offered to pick-up when I texted him in despair). There are disappointments that can be addressed (in-part) by apple turnovers, but this was not one of them.
What I did want was to really cry. To grieve. To be REALLY upset (because that was factually how I was feeling). And, eventually, to get back to work.
As I cried in the stairwell, I remembered that I want to be a yoga teacher because I want to help others express and experience life through embodied movement. Yoga has taught me how to be a little more graceful when twisted into a difficult move or when I’m unable to “complete” a posture or when I feel heavy and stuck.
All of us want ease as a natural expression of being human, but life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we’re crushed or disappointed or sad or embarrassed or lonely. Sometimes we cry in the stairwell, or in public.
As Autumn begins to arrive, and as the trees drop the pretense of leaves and reveal their true shape, I hope that you too can begin to drop out from the protective shade of your canopy and be real about how you feel.
Sometimes we’re sad and sometimes we’re happy. But all of us are alive, and that is a gift.