Being Okay with What Is

Presence @ 2014 Jane Waterman

Letting life be what it is at any given moment is not something that comes naturally to us. I was reminded of this as a student from my new chair yoga class (wow!) observed that I looked tired. I confirmed that I was, and she asked what I would be doing after class. I said I would be going home to bed.

There was a time I would have felt a lot of shame about admitting that, given that my class ended at 3:30pm on a Tuesday, when many people at work would be looking forward to what they’d do when 5 o’clock ticked around. I know because that’s what happens in movies and TV shows, and that’s what other people have told me. Having lived with chronic illness for over 24 years, that’s long been beyond my experience.

In the first years of my illness, back in the 90s, I remember often getting home from my then 9-to-5 job and going to bed. I’d be shattered. Life was hard. It was a battle. It was probably even a war.

I used to think in terms of the warrior analogy so many people still use when talking about illness – chronic or acute. I realize now that this kind of analogy only sets us up for an “us and them” mentality – the mind versus the body. In a war, you have to be ever-vigilant to not let the enemy (in this case, illness) get the better of you. You have to fight to be “normal” – to be a productive member of society. It’s exhausting.

Until I had to let my job go earlier this year, I was fighting every day of my life to be a productive person, and every nap born of the necessity of my illness seemed like a failure to overcome adversity.

Many days are still a struggle, but I try not to add to it by railing against what is, or knocking myself down for having to rest so much. I don’t always succeed and those days are the ones where I sink into depression and feelings of loss.

When I got home from teaching my chair class on Tuesday, I was indeed shattered. It’s hard to describe the concept of fatigue to someone who has not experienced it on an unremitting basis for decades. It’s hard to explain flares, and the days where getting out of bed is difficult. On Tuesday, I’d already felt sick when I got to class. When I got home, I did indeed go to bed. I crashed. Although I woke up many times, I spent most of the next 24 hours in bed, getting up around 2pm the following day. It was Christmas Eve.

I hear people talking about their Christmas plans – shopping, travelling, time with family and friends, and parties. I used to do all those things before I got ill. Now, I think about what I’d do if I had to do those things. I wouldn’t have the energy to teach chair yoga. I wouldn’t have the energy to sit up on Christmas morning and write this post.

Life is a trade-off with chronic illness, and I don’t regret the choices I have to make. I haven’t done a lot this year, if I tally it up in the conventional sense. Becoming a yoga teacher, however, is perhaps one of the most amazing achievements of my life. Being able to open the door to the moments of peace that are available in a yoga practice, as it was opened to me, is the most incredible gift. To sit down in a chair in that class and (while struggling with the old tapes of “who the hell do I think I am?”) watch people breathe and move and discover their own power is sustaining. Seeing a student truly withdraw (even for a moment) from the battle between mind and body, and find the Yoga (union) between the two is astounding to me.

If the only thing I’ve learned this year is how to better stand in the presence of what is, to be okay with how my life has changed, to move from limitations to possibilities, then I’ve been truly blessed. Being okay with what is is the best feeling in the world if only we have the courage to stand it.


6 Responses

  1. Annette McKinnon

    It is an amazing achievement to become a yoga teacher Jane, and only you would write such a thought provoking post on Christmas morning. I always sort of duck when Yoga comes along but the idea of withdrawing from the struggle between mind and body, even for a short time, that you present is attractive.
    We can spend huge amounts of time on what the body ‘should’ be able to do but going that route never seems to help. It sounds as though you are attaining more harmony in your current practice

    • Jane Waterman

      Thank you, Annette! I am. I used to think that inner peace was a destination, that one day I would wake up and all would feel okay in my mind, body, heart and soul. I realize now that we have the power to glimpse it every day, and every time we do, it’s something to be celebrated. If we can break with the old ways and stop beating ourselves up over all the “shoulds” we glimpse those moments more often. I found the highlight of my week was seeing a student so deep in that place and just seeing peace written over her face and her closed eyes. Although I felt pain and extreme fatigue afterwards, that moment told me exactly why I was doing what I was doing. It felt great!

      Whether or not Yoga itself is your practice – sometimes we try something and it’s not for us, other times, we just haven’t found the right teacher – there is something that can take us out of the mind-place and into the body-mind place. Once we find what that thing is, I’m convinced we can enjoy those moments when they arrive by not clinging to what was or what will be, just by enjoying what is.

      Forgive me for being philosophical today, but it feels a nice peaceful place to be, without being anywhere else but here.

      Hugs, and Merry Christmas to you and D-!

  2. India

    You are amazing! Just what I needed to read. The possibilities are certainly more gratifying to focus on than the limitations. Achieving a goal as you have with becoming a yoga teacher has greatly encouraged me to just try it. Having ADHD, depression, and arthritis I constantly feared trying yoga because if I could actually stay focused and make it to a class, I worried my arthritis would limit me. Some days are great but being a perfectionist who used to be a dancer makes me self conscious and somewhat embarrassed. I didn’t know about chair yoga and did some research to see if it was offered nearby. I will go and talk to the instructor mid January in hopes of maybe starting. Maybe I too can become okay with what is and find that peaceful moment.

    • Jane Waterman

      Go for it, Sweetheart – you can do it! Chair yoga is rapidly becoming more available, as everyone is recognizing that apart from an aging population, we have a lot of younger people with chronic illnesses and limitations. I’m thrilled there’s a class near you and that you’ll talk to the instructor. I’m hoping you’ll find a great fit there. There are endless ways to modify yoga. BKS Iyengar, one of the modern fathers of yoga used all kinds of props to make yoga accessible to everyone. There is also a growing group of instructors who are body positive – Dianne Bondy is one, and Anna Guest-Jelley is another. They are both so inspirational, and through them you will find lots of resources.

      I truly believe that you can find those peaceful moments… you just have to begin. Let me know how you go and if I can do anything to support you!

      Lots of love,

  3. Fit DreamCatcher

    What an amazing post! You should be so proud of yourself! This is so beautiful. You’re students are lucky to have you, It’s like an unspoken language between them and you. You know what they may be feeling. And that is an absolutely amazing achievement for the year!

    I’m also loving all of this positivity emulating from your post. I have a favorite mantra I’d like to share with you. And it is “turn your burdens into blessings. ” you have done just that. Taking what could be taken negatively and spin it and try and look at what good has come BECAUSE of it.

    I am also loving this body positive movement as well! I follow a cowell wonderful ladies on instagram. Are you on instagram? There are so many people like us out there. Just looking for someone to inspire them.

    I hope this finds you well.

  4. Therese

    My cousin is a yoga instructor. I’m going to share this post with her! Chair yoga is such a wonderful idea!