Reflections on Transition, Pain & Gratitude

Early this year my husband got a job that meant moving. I closed my business and we moved across the country to a small town in the state where we were both born—and in which all our family still live. With this move I’m transitioning from busy studio owner and yoga teacher to unemployed blogger. This transition comes with both excitement and sorrow. I’m grateful to live only 90 miles from my sister and one of my closest friends. But I’m sad to now live thousands of miles from other people who have become important to me. I feel incredibly blessed that as an academic my husband was able to find a position that couldn’t fit him any better had he written the job description himself. I’m thrilled to live in a town I would have picked even if jobs didn’t have anything to do with it. Yet I also feel a sense of groundlessness. For the first time in over 20 years I don’t get up and go to work or school. As an extrovert I thrive on people, but I’m currently without a community. I’m happy for the time to write, but as a teacher, it feels strange not to have students. (Am I still a teacher if I’m studentless?) I know students and work and community will come and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to let them come slowly and naturally. But I’m a planner and a person of action and sometimes it’s hard to go slow.

As a way to mark this transition in our lives, my husband and I planned an epic hike. Twenty-one days to cover about 200 miles of the North Cascade Mountain section of the Pacific Crest Trail. We planned for months. We spent a lot of money at outdoor stores, and I dehydrated 32-days worth of food. We read books and blogs by other hikers. And when it came time we packed our packs, created auto email responses and set off into the wilderness. We were ready to be alone in the mountains. We were ready to be away from phones, computers, work, other people—away from demand. We were ready to be together and reflect on all that has happened in our lives over the past decade and on the future that now stretches out before us.

Halfway through the 2nd day of our hike, my knee was injured. My congenitally weak joints weren’t prepared for the extra 30 pounds, the rocks, the elevation change (thousands of feet every day). I took an anti-inflammatory pain pill and pressed on. Soon it became obvious that every downhill step was going to hurt—and badly. As a yoga teacher, I’m always asking my students to stay in the present and to deal with what’s actually happening in any given moment of their lives. I tell them that we can’t always choose what happens, but we can choose how we respond. In that moment I didn’t have the choice to stop hiking (there’s only one way off the mountain…) and I didn’t have the choice to hike without pain. I could only choose my response.

T.K.V. Desikachar (my yoga teacher’s teacher) says that “If we subscribe to yogic concepts, then everything that we see, experience, and feel is not illusion; it is true and real.” What was real for me in that moment was that my hike was going to be painful. I could respond by slapping on a smile and doing my best to ignore the pain. But that would be denying the truth. I could respond by getting angry and grumpy and making everyone feel as miserable as my knee felt, but that would mean giving my injury too much power over my emotional being. As a practitioner of yoga, my response needed to authentically deal with what was currently happening. I had to open myself up to what was real and then figure out how to live with it, which in this case meant figuring out how to find enjoyment on a painful hike.

Under the cliff

Krishnamacharya (my yoga teacher’s teacher’s teacher) taught that pain and disease have to be addressed before the deeper teachings can be explored. Pain is something that has a way of filling up one’s mind. It takes over.

My authentic response had to be one of letting go. I had to let go of my epic hike. I had to let go of the idea of a grand, reflective transition. I had to let go of the (somewhat prideful) notion I’d been building of myself as a really tough outdoors-woman. All I could do was continue to put one foot in front of the other for the next 60 miles until I finally found myself on the side of HWY 2, (waiting with incredibly swollen legs for my sister to come and rescue me).

In an interview on “On Being” I heard Kevin Kling say something to the effect that we are all only temporarily able bodied. On my hike I felt the truth of this sentiment in my bones, literally. I realized how lucky I’ve always been. I’ve dealt with joint pain before and my hike isn’t the first thing I’ve given up because of joint issues. But really, my body pretty much always works. With every painful step I actually loved my body more. My understanding and appreciation of able-bodiedness grew. At night in my tent, after unwrapping my ace bandages, I kissed my knees. I thanked them for allowing me to make it that many more miles through the beautiful, difficult terrain. And when I had the opportunity, I chose to leave the trail. To come home and respectfully allow them (me) to heal.

I’ve been home for over a week now. I’ve seen a doctor, had x-rays and learned that my knee cap shifted to the left. I’ve seen a physical therapist and now have daily exercises to bring it back into alignment. My present moment is one of ordinariness. I’m no longer in transition. I’m just home.

I look back at my hike now and try to remember the hard earned views from 6,100 ft. I remember Mt. Rainer popping up out of the clouds that I was standing above. I remember the hours-long conversation my husband and I had about spirituality, mystery, yoga and rhetoric. I remember the warmth of our campfire after a painful 2-mile descent in the rain. I remember the wide stream crossing on the side of a steep mountain where I switched my boots for sandals so I could enjoy the mountain water rushing over my sore legs. I remember the small, crystal clear, freezing cold lake we found above tree line. Swimming in this lake, I had no pain.

Lake SpectacleMt. Rainer

PCT Collage

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that plans aren’t always dependable. As human beings, we have to be adaptable. Because even though everything is real, it’s all always changing. We have to learn to live within this ever changing world of which we are a part. Every year, season, month and day we have to live into what is. We have to be awake to our present reality and figure out, almost moment to moment, who we are and what kind of life we will live.

3 Responses to Reflections on Transition, Pain & Gratitude

    • Oh Naoko, how wonderful to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your blog with me. I wish you all good things as you “learn to swim in tokyo!”

      Much love.

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