A few years ago I burned just a few of my old journals.
I asked a friend to help me.
Without fully understanding the extent of the situation, he mistakenly put a log on the fire.
It took us from about 7 p.m. to about 1 a.m. one evening to burn all my old journals in my fireplace.
We went on and on and on and on.
I have been keeping a journal almost daily since I was about 17 years old. My old journals were taking over my house. They were crammed into every available nook, bookshelf, the wine cellar, stacked in drawers and closets.
My old journals were literally taking over my house.
Now some people would consider this very important material.
Should I choose to write my autobiography, for example, having my old journals on hand would have been very helpful support material.
But I chose another route – to burn every line, every page, every journal completely.
Not only had I written my journals, I kept my writings on acid-free paper that was supposed to last for centuries.
As I sat there with my friend tossing the old hardbound books into the fireplace, I would open up a few at random and read. Every line felt sacred. There were deep, sweet insights. Every line uplifted me. At every reading, I reconnected to who I had been at the moment I wrote the words and felt tenderness for all I had experienced.
But I kept on burning my personal story.
Oh, I did make a mistake. Somehow I accidentally burned my remaining copies of Raccoon In Every Pot, which was my favorite play that I ever wrote.
Raccoon In Every Pot had been produced Off Off Broadway in New York City, but apparently I needed to let go of that also.
Why would I make such a radical choice?
I wasn’t mad at the time. I wasn’t grieving, upset or making this choice in a rash, thoughtless manner.
Every seven years, we create a whole new physical body.
At the end of seven years, every cell in your body would have been completely replaced.
But if you study emotions and the way that feelings are tied into our physical expression, you will learn that every emotion we ever experience is also stored at the cellular level.
As long as we keep telling ourselves the same old stories about ourselves, we keep limiting our self definition.
Every time you tell your old story, your body keeps recreating the old cellular patterns.
Last July, I injured my right shoulder rather badly.
In the fall, I re-injured my right shoulder.
And then about a month ago, I hurt myself yet again. A friend came over to help me in my garden. I thought we were simply going to mark out the lines of a new garden plan. Instead, she showed up with a pickaxe. And because she had her pickaxe, I felt compelled to bring out my 10-pound pickaxe and start swinging away at the hard Georgia dirt in my front yard. Then I had to haul the debris to the curb. The dumpster was so heavy that the Atlanta garbage men refused to pick it up. I then had to go into the dumpster, remove everything and start all over.
After this second round of re-injuring myself, I had a hard time unscrewing a top off a bottle. I had to use two hands to lift a bowl out of the dishwasher. Walking my dog hurt whenever she pulled on her leash.
Once again, I had to completely reconfigure my personal yoga practice as well as my teaching.
When I went back for my third weekend of Lillah Schwarz’s yoga teacher training at Lighten Up Yoga in Asheville, N.C. (my sixth teacher training), I arrived with great trepidation. Would I be able to hold down dog, much less stand on my head?
I explained everything to Lillah ahead of time. I told her I felt quite stupid to have hurt myself again, knowing full well that I had no business swinging a 10-pound pickaxe for an hour and a half.
When we started our yoga practice, Lillah looked at me and told me to let go of judgment.
Without saying so precisely, she was encouraging me to let go of my personal story.
I could stick with my story, that I had been badly injured and then unfortunately re-injured. That would have been one choice. A lot of people tell themselves the same old story for years and nothing every changes. At Lillah’s encouragement, I just decided to stick with how I showed up in that moment.
I surprised myself. Not only was I able to be able to do a beautiful down dog and stand on my head. I could do everything in the practice except for handstand.
The last day of our training, we practiced wheel in a metal chair.
Once again, I decided to let go of my story and just stick with what showed up at the time. I got into the wheel position but discovered there was no push available in my arms. I could commiserate with my own yoga students who could get sort of there but not straighten their arms to express full wheel.
As I lay there, realizing that the once beautiful wheel that I had been able to express was not available to me that day, my story of the day showed up.
My story of the day was that I am getting older.
I can stand on my head and do shoulderstand. I can teach a great yoga class, but alas, I couldn’t do full wheel.
I contemplated what it felt like to be in menopause, to have hot flashes, to discover grey strands in my hair.
At lunch, I asked Lillah her thoughts on getting older. “Love yourself more,” she advised me.
So this afternoon, I was practicing my yoga. I had practiced one hour in the morning and chose to practice again in the afternoon, this time headstand, hand stand and peacock with a friend who was willing to spot me, supported fish and hip openers.
Towards the end of my hour of practice, I thought to myself, “Well why not?”
I asked my friend to come and spot me in trying to do full wheel.
I grabbed hold of his ankles and thrust myself up, breathing heavily.
It felt very very frustrating to do it that way.
I asked my friend to step aside and all of a sudden I was able to push myself up into full wheel. The regular, sacred, comfortable wheel I have been doing since I was 34 years old. I held for five delicious breaths. I was back!
I came down, recovered and rested.
I repeated full wheel a total of three times for five breaths.
I was very thankful that I had chosen to let go of my story.
I could have told myself forever that my right shoulder was no longer any good and that I had to be careful for the rest of my life.
Or I could just tune in, see what was available at the time and rediscover myself in that moment of practice.
A friend of mine sent me an email this week. “You have the strength of five elephants,” she wrote to me.
This is not the story that I used to tell myself. My old story was that I was sensitive and fragile and that I had to live my life very very carefully.
Because of various challenges I have faced over the past two years, all of a sudden even complete strangers have been telling me that I am very very strong.
I give myself credit here for having let go of my old personal story. I give myself permission to rediscover myself in every moment, finding the gifts of my true self as I show up now.