On my right forearm, starting just under my right wrist, are tattoo’d the words “Faith”, “Courage”, “Hope”, and “Compassion”. In between each word is my astrological symbol, double waves for the water bearer sign of Aquarius. The font used is “Bastarda-K”, one I fell in love with when working on the design of one of my poetry collections.
I had the words done separately over the years of 2013 and 2014, adding the Aquarius symbol in when I had another word placed. Depending on the amount of letters, the ink work took roughly half an hour to a full hour to complete. As we moved farther down my forearm, the pain shifted from dull to sharp. There was no set time line of having any of those words placed permanently in my skin, no sitting down and planning the order of the words, or even the words themselves. Yet, “Faith” was the first word I had inked on by the artist who designed, created and tattoo’d all but three pieces of the art that adorns my body.
For good reason.
2013 and 2014 were years where I went through hell, or as I like to think of it, gained a lot of life lessons and experience. My life shifted radically during those two years, and those two years were earmarked by a great deal of emotional and physical pain as I struggled through surgeries, a cancer diagnosis, the physical hell of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and went through my first experience of starting an LLC as well as becoming a college professor and leaving the eight years I had spent as a stay at home mother. I lost my father in 2014, and struggled with the heartache and weight of being the person who made the hard decision to move him into compassionate care.
It wasn’t just 2013 and 2014 that I struggled through. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know I’ve struggled with health issues associated with my very DNA, depression, anxiety, survived an abusive mother and an abusive first husband. I’ve struggled with infertility and lost twice the number of pregnancies that have resulted in living children. I’ve had my ass kicked over and over again in my life. When hearing my story, people often ask why I am not more unkind, unhappy, hateful, bad spirited. And the best I can answer is I choose daily to not be.
“Faith” for me is not simply a concept of religion. It’s a manner of being. Raised Roman Catholic, I’d never bought into the idea that there’s a higher power up there, waiting to punish us for things he’s already determined we’d do. Nor did I buy into the philosophy of “original sin”, that any baby not baptized would automatically be sent to Limbo unless their parents had them sprinkled with holy water.
For me, “Faith” is a concept that came about, a way of living, a way of being that forty-three years (and counting) of being on this planet have shown me, time and time again, is necessary. I’ve had my ass handed to me, I’ve survived more than most people could imagine, yet, life has shown me time and time again that no matter what happens, it gives way to something greater, something better. We rise, then we fall. We are happy, then we are sad.
When faced with anything in this life that can be qualified as scary, unwanted, fearful, anxiety causing, health at risk issues, we have a choice, and it’s one that time and time again is at its core something we should all consider. When faced with anything, ask yourself the following: “Have I done all I can do?” and “How much of this is under my control?” Think about the second of these: “How much of this is under my control?” As a yogi, I can tell you, we control nothing in our lives. But for those of you who are not yogis, take a moment, and think.
And after you ask and answer those two questions, you have to do the hard work: let what will be simply be.
Letting be what will be is one of the toughest things to do in this life. We yogis refer to this practice as “Ishvara Pranidhana”, which translates from Sanskrit into the English word for “Surrender”. It doesn’t mean that you’re sitting there at a traffic light and see an out of control car coming up behind you and you don’t move; you still take the action to do what you can in any given situation. You move if you can move. If you can’t? You trust that things will be as they should be.
Back in 2016, what I thought I wanted, what I thought I had been building towards was suddenly taken from me. For weeks after, I was depressed, I cried when I was alone, ate too much bad-for-me food, drank way too much alcohol, stopped exercising, stopped writing. I prayed for things to go back to how they had been. I spent way too much time revisiting the past, when things were how they had been. I can tell you it was one of the biggest heartaches of my life, one that shook me to my core and made it damn near impossible to breathe.
Then time passed. I healed. I grew, moved on, moved forward. Time and distance gave me clarity, so much so that looking back on it now, I realize that despite at the time it being what I would have qualified as the worst thing I could have gone through, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Because without that heartache happening, without that experience of hurt, heartache, grief, loss and pain, I would not be where I am today. That “worst thing” I experienced in May of 2016 forced me to examine my own life. It forced me to make changes. It forced me to learn a new way of living, a new way of doing things.
Ask me if I could go back to that life before May 2016, back to that space and time in my life where I thought that was what I wanted, what I thought I needed for my life. My answer is unequivocally no.
We are currently all in the same situation. COVID-19 has impacted ALL of us. The lives we have lived are currently drastically different than they were before, and we have no idea how long this period of our lives will last.
“Have I done all that I can do?” Yes, yes I have. As have all of you in this messy situation with me.
“How much of this is under my control?” None of this. And this is what scares us. This is what is most terrifying about this.
I’ve done what I can do in this. I’ve reached out to friends, listened when they spoke of their fears of getting sick, of people they love getting sick. I’ve listened to friends’ pain filled voices when they’ve spoken of loss of income, loss of freedom, loss of businesses that they’ve built.
Almost daily I post on Facebook the following: “Good Morning. How are you doing today?” For the most part, people have been appreciative of the posts. But I’ve had some negative feedback, being called annoying for being so damn positive when the world is falling apart. I’ve been called naive and told I’m ignoring what’s going on.
Make no mistake, I am not over here, sitting on my meditation pillow, chanting “Om” with a drunk-idiot grin plastered on my face. I am BEYOND aware how bad things are right now. I see it in my bank account, see it in my loss of work, see it in my eyes when I look in the mirror, feel it when it’s 3 pm and I’m not heading to my studio to practice yoga.
I’ve felt it, felt the impact of this illness that’s taking so much from all of us. It’s front and center in my life, day in, day out. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve cried. I’ve had panic attacks.
“Have I done all that I can do?” Yes I have. But focusing on the fear and loss isn’t going to help. It is NOT going to change the situation we are in.
“How much of this is under my control?” None. I have no control in this situation. No control over what has happened, no control over when I can resume teaching in person rather than in front of a camera. I have no control over the next time I can step through the doors of the yoga studio I consider home and hug the instructors who have become my family. I have no control over when the next time I’ll spend an entire Saturday fucking off with a time suck game on my tablet while having a L-O-N-G brunch.
What I do have control over are my actions related to my reactions. I feel anxious, I let it come, let it wash over me. Then I do what I know works for me: yoga, meditation, breath work, reaching out to someone to tell them where I’m at.
“I’m breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.” Past that, I have no control over any of what all of us are dealing with right now. Past being there for the people in my life, past listening to them, past offering free online yoga classes, past continuing my art work, continuing to study for certifications, past just doing the things I need to do in order to do what I want to do, there is nothing. All I can do is offer love and support, to be a shoulder to cry on, to be the person who can always find the silver lining in any given situation, the person who always has an umbrella for when the shit hits the fan and starts splattering. I can’t go back and change the past, what led to where we are at in this very moment. I can’t go forward to what’s going to come after all of this settles down and we begin whatever our new “normal” is. To do either of those things would be to steal from this present moment.
And in this present moment, I feel scared, I feel anxious, but make no mistake, I am neither fully scared nor anxious; these are just two emotions I feel. They are not the sum total of who I am in all of this.
I’ve seen more examples of love, compassion and kindness in these last few weeks our lives have been shut down. I’ve witnessed the earth beginning to heal herself from all the pollution we’ve forced upon it. I’ve had more real conversations than I’ve had in years.
And I’ve said I love you and heard it in return more often than I have before in my life.
I often tell my students who are working to better their health that it is okay if they make mistakes, if they slip, if they stray from the path they’re on in this journey they’re taking. It doesn’t matter what comes before, it doesn’t matter what mistakes we have made. What matters is that we get up every day with the intent of doing the very best we can. And if all you do is inhale and exhale each day? If that was all you had to give? Congratulations: you have done all you can do. And keep doing it.
Having “Faith” does not mean you’re happy with any given situation. It simply means you do what you can to shift things; and when that has been exhausted, you move into acceptance.
Have Faith, Dear Readers. Know you are not alone in this.
“May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
and may you feel love.”