Expect the Unexpected

December 14, 2014

tsunami xmas image

I am so grateful for my life in London. I feel like I won the lottery of best cities in the world to live in and I have felt this way everyday for the past few years. I am thankful for that feeling of being in the right place for me at this time in my life especially since I migrated so far from my family and spent so many years jumping through hoops, doing work I didn’t enjoy, learning the ways of a new culture, to earn my right to live and work in a city that has fed me culturally, emotionally and spiritually, forever and ever if I so wish.

But certainty is not a feeling I have experienced that frequently. I used to get stuck in indecision, fearful of the repercussions of my choices. There were two angels on either shoulder – one saying – no matter what you do everything will be okay and the other ‘WHAT IF’ angel urging me to think of every possible worst case scenario that could lead to failure on some level (that would be my fault of course because I chose it).

Over time I have learned that both of these voices (trust vs. fear/doubt) are important and the secret is not to get caught up in what my teacher Alex Filmer-Lorch would call the ‘pendulum swing’ between two opposing ideas. It’s dizzying, tiring, unproductive and falls under the category of unnecessary and unhealthy worry. At the end of the day, decision-making stress is a byproduct of the freedom that I have to build my own life and I have to remember to see it that way.

A colleague of mine said the other day, you can’t choose where you were born, but you can choose where you live, and this is an incredible thing. But that wasn’t always true and still isn’t for many nor is it always an easy or affordable journey to relocate yourself on a map. I don’t follow politics too closely, but I’m well aware of recent debates over overcrowding in England due to immigration and resulting prejudices. It’s a shame because when I attended my citizenship ceremony last year I felt so proud to stand amongst a group of people from all over the world who were finally granted the right to call England home. I was also very aware that many of these people were leaving behind countries with grim situations and had likely been through far more harrowing times to get to where they were than me. Undoubtedly this would lead them to make the most of their new home and pursue opportunities otherwise not available to them with more passion and determination – isn’t that what planting new seeds is all about? So I am thankful for the opportunity to make choices, however stressful it may be, and I am thankful for the possibility to start over and offer something up to a new city, a new country, a new place to call home.

Sometimes things in life feel just right. Sometimes they feel not quite right. Sometimes very wrong. But that doesn’t mean you’ve messed up. The friction is what keeps us on our toes and challenges us to find our strengths and hidden mechanisms for survival. For every one year that I feel certain about things, there were probably five of uncertainty in between, and this is where the work began. During my first few years in London I wasn’t sure what the driving force was keeping me abroad, although I did feel certain that I belonged on this side of the pond. I had no idea what was awaiting me, where my studies would take me, how much I would earn, who I would meet, but something told me this was the place where things would happen. It didn’t always feel like the most logical decision but once I had made the choice, I was sticking to it. And right now, nine years later, I am so thankful I did even though it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

London will always be hugely significant to me because it’s the place where I cultivated my passion for yoga and teaching, and consequently how I developed many coping mechanisms to get me through times of doubt. It’s where I got stronger. They say to only expect the unexpected and this is sage advice. I had no idea when I moved here that I would be teaching yoga part-time in a studio that didn’t even exist yet just two blocks away from my original student housing. I had no idea that this studio would be a stone’s throw away from the theatre where the musical adaptation of my favourite childhood book “Matilda” plays every night and that I would go there with my wonderful boyfriend on his 34th (we’re always kids) birthday. I had no idea, until a fellow student in my meditation training sung it for us, that this musical holds a song that sums up what it means to find peace and strength when all around us feels like chaos and doesn’t seem to make much sense. And suddenly there is a tiny thread stringing everything together in hindsight.

The voice of doubt still likes to creep up when I am making decisions, such as planning travel. What if there’s a snowstorm and I get stuck and miss the connection? What if a cheaper ticket becomes available tomorrow for a better route? I know that voice is there to test me and so I listen for a second and then say – hey you – CHILL OUT. Because even if we make all the ‘right’ decisions, there are outside factors that we cannot control and in one way or another, we’re going to have to be creative. Unexpected stuff is going to happen and change things no matter how carefully we pave our path. Deep down I believe that we can turn every situation on its head and make the most of it – otherwise we submit to suffering. We submit to being the victim when we should strive to be the victor. So my motto for the new year? Plow through the What Ifs and don’t look back. What’s my other way to stop over-thinking my choices and their possible consequences? Take the focus off me and think of how I can help someone else instead.

In November I celebrated Thanksgiving both in London and the U.S. I woke up on Thanksgiving day and taught a gratitude-themed yoga class to 21 people in a cozy, heated studio tucked into a very peaceful Covent Garden. The next day I flew to Boston and was greeted by my nieces for a belated Thanksgiving meal hosted by my parents. At school in the States, we learn that when the first Pilgrims arrived in America, they were in quite a pickle. It took several winters, several deaths and finally help from the Native Americans to get them back on their feet and thriving in a new territory that would soon become home to hundreds of millions, including me. When I arrive at Logan airport, my family is there with the Subaru and a warm meal is usually waiting for me within an hour. Despite those comforts, I inherited the Pilgrim gene and while I don’t enjoy frequent air travel nor promote it for the toll it takes on our health and the planet’s, it has provided me with my present life, living perhaps not so far from my roots in England. It has deepened my understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world, a small part of a vast humanity.

On a less happy note, once the Pilgrims thanked the Native Americans with a bountiful feast, they later got greedy and murderous and took rather than shared what wasn’t theirs to begin with. On Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate the nice bit of the story and continue the traditions of giving thanks for our lives and those who help us. We remember, as is repeated at Christmas time, that life is beautiful and there are many things to celebrate that we normally take for granted. Hopefully we all decide that it’s better not to be so greedy and to give back a little but I’m not so sure this is true for the majority.

I love the tradition of giving thanks and every morning that I walk over Waterloo bridge and look upon the Thames, the Southbank, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, I am so thankful for all the ups and downs that London has given me, for the person it has shaped me into today. I’m even thankful for the feeling of being a ‘familiar stranger’, to quote my friend Jen, when I return to Boston – it means I’ve discovered a new part of myself and there’s no going back. Expressing gratitude and drawing your attention to what is positive about the present is a great way to see through the muck. I have been going Instagram crazy this past month taking photos of Covent Garden in the wee hours of the morning before I teach, capturing pink skies, gorgeous Christmas decorations, dreamy London scapes. But I won’t lie. For every beautiful thing that catches my eye, there’s also a pile of sick I need to mind not step in (Londoners love to drink…especially this time of year). It’s not all roses.

So what are you thankful for? When times are tough, what gets you through it? Where do you find beauty and hope? Who do you turn to? What do you read? Watch? Listen to? Have you created your toolkit for unexpected times? Something that makes sense and feels right when nothing else does? Who might you write a note to this holiday season to let them know they made a difference to you?

I hope you’ve made it this far, because the most important thing I want to mention is the charity yoga class promoted in the opening image on December 20th, which is what’s got me on this giving gratitude high.  10 years ago many Brits left London to holiday around the Indian ocean in places like Thailand and Sri Lanka. Their plan was to have a blissful time in the sun with friends and loved ones.  Instead they witnessed an unimaginable tragedy and many did not survive.  One of the survivors was student and friend Niki Medlik who also designed the beautiful graphic images you can see on this newsletter.  Together we decided to organize a charity yoga class in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Tsunami to remind people of the tragic event that affected so many people, taking the lives of nearly 300,000.  Niki chose a wonderful charity that is the Sri Lankan Women’s Swimming Project helping to teach women how to breathe and float given that they were the majority who lost their lives from drowning.  We love this charity because it is providing ongoing support to the communities that were effected the most and empowering people with new skills for survival.  The idea is that we will get together to celebrate life in the safe haven that is the yoga studio where I teach and where I have been blessed to meet so many incredible people who come to yoga to feel better.

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