Years ago, as I faced a difficult, life-altering decision, a friend had a dream about me: I was on the water – a sea or the ocean – against a backdrop of mountains and a city of bright lights, and I was floating atop a lilypad. What struck my friend was that I wasn’t paddling the lilypad; instead I was just going along with it wherever it went. (He remembers feeling sad that I was moving away from him and at the same time happy I was floating in the direction of the beautiful city far away.)
For many years before this particular time and circumstance, I’d tried desperately to steer my life in the direction of a very specific set of dreams. I was relentless in my pursuit, hellbent to stop at nothing that got in the way of my getting what I was after. This decision I faced could take me off-course; it was literally a game-changer. And yet, I had no doubt what I was “supposed” to do. I felt led in the direction of taking a short-term job assignment and a significant pay-cut mere months after I’d purchased my first home. It was, by all accounts, batshit crazy. And I knew it was exactly what I was supposed to do at that time, so I did it. I let go of my oars and, with them, my sense of control.
I had no idea what would come of the decision I made, but I felt almost no fear. As I come from a family of anxious people – overthinkers and worriers galore – I come by my own anxiety naturally. I’m really good at overthinking, and I’m a superb worrier. Yet, I did almost none of this. With tremendous surprise. I felt 100% confident in my decision. And 100% shocked by that. I actually started to overthink the confidence itself…but still it hardly wavered.
This was all new territory for me.
Five years later, I made another bold decision – I quit my job, sold my house, left everyone and everything I knew, and moved across the country. I was terrified about all of it. But it felt right, so the fear seemed…bearable, like it was just the work I had to do to keep moving in the direction of the Universe’s grand plan for my life. In another four years, I headed out into the wilderness in hopes of connecting with my true self and coming up with a plan for my next steps in life (ha!). In both instances – my move to Portland and my journey into the wild – I made a difficult decision with relative ease (I exaggerate the ease just a little in hindsight, but there was a sense of knowing).
In yoga, there’s a concept known as “releasing into.” It’s what we aim to do when we get into poses that are uncomfortable. We focus on breathing and “send the breath” to the places we feel tension and discomfort whilst trying to settle in beyond the resistance. “Releasing into” a pose isn’t ignoring the body’s cues; rather it’s stretching past our limitations. It’s a glorious overcoming of fear. And this is what I’ve experienced at times in my life when I’ve “released into” a grander plan that I couldn’t understand at the time but decided to trust to be in my best interest. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now.
Shortly after putting in my resignation at my steady, consistent, well-paid albeit extraordinarily stressful and unfulfilling salaried position last fall, I read Gabrielle Bernstein’s book The Universe has Your Back. (It could have been titled Stop Paddling and Trust Your Lilypad.) Its premise is this: so long as we are trying to force our lives to look and feel a certain way, we will be miserable and unsuccessful. It is only when we release control, come to peace with the road that has brought us this far, and let our paths unfold before us, with all their twists, turns, bumps, and detours, that we find peace and contentment.
All of that is lovely in theory and very difficult to practice in reality.
It’s taken me 38 years to come to the awareness that the times in my life in which I trusted the voice inside me to guide me even when the route seemed batshit crazy…were the times in which I felt most confident, most motivated, most supported, and most content. Right now, I’m essentially driving a cab with a master’s degree, renting a small space in the home of lovely strangers, and making and eating lots of banana pudding. It’s not the life I envisioned for myself at all, but good things – and good people – come my way at every turn. I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been. I giggle in surprise almost everyday…and it also makes perfect sense to me (not the circumstances themselves but the process, the unfoldment). I trust that what’s on the horizon of my life is much more beautiful than any plan I could have made for myself.
One of the chapters in Gabby’s book is entitled “When you think you’ve surrendered, surrender more,” and that’s what my best days look like right now. I tensed up this past weekend when I started feeling overwhelmed then awkward and clumsy and uncertain. I gave into the temptation to try grabbing hold of my oars and paddling my own way…and it was miserable. In those moments, I lost my confidence and felt extremely lonely. That’s when I took a deep breath, navigated myself to safe, nourishing settings, surrounded myself with encouraging company, granted myself grace, and remembered that releasing into a pose feels so much more lovely than fighting or faking it.
And so too with life. Good stuff happens when we release into the lives we were intended to live (and eat banana pudding; we should all eat banana pudding).