Showing Up

Showing Up

“Bloom where you’re planted.” —The Buddha

 

How do you show up for yourself?

If you haven’t asked yourself this question lately—or ever—you’re in good company. Although I’ve been practicing self-care for decades, and even chose to follow it as the path of my life’s work, the rituals, forms of nourishment, and medicines I’ve engaged with have, for the most part, been in service of things outside of myself. I was trying to meet/exceed standards of achievement, fall within/below the parameters of Western (and, at times, Eastern) definitions of “health,” and be a consistent/enabling source of inspiration, support, and structure to friends, family, colleagues, and clients. I did everything I could within these guidelines, and yet I never seemed to strike the mythical work-life balance for myself. I never didn’t think about my dosha or what it needed for “balance” (since it always seemed out of balance). I never felt truly embodied.

Whether it’s age, maturity, wisdom, or some combination thereof, I’m realizing now that this is the most important question to ask if we want to show up for others, and for all life presents to me, in a sustainable way. The old “put on your own oxygen mask first” rule feels relevant here, but that’s not the method or motive behind “showing up” that interests me most. For me, showing up isn’t about survival, which in a way has been underlying the pursuit of all those external validations. Showing up is about maintenance; it’s about honestly acknowledging my needs in the present moment and then satisfying them as best as I can; it’s about doing what my body knows is right even if my mind wants to edit the story unfolding before me.

And there’s no better time to show up this way than spring.

***

Like in many nature-based traditions, spring is a season of beginning—the true “new year” according to Mother Earth’s calendar—in Ayurveda. We see in our environment the same qualities that we see in babies: wet, squishy, dense, soft. Full of potential and possibilities but not fully formed. Testing our patience while delighting us with the smallest thing. Whether it’s a pre-language coo or a crocus playing peek-a-boo, these early moments of life make us put everything on pause to take them in. They’re precious because they’re so fleeting. Spring reminds us to steep in the ooey-gooey goodness of beginnings before we get caught up in growing—which is nothing more than moving closer toward ending.

Our attention is also occupied in a unique way in spring. Not only are we busy staring at and taking photos of new blooms, but there’s an urge to tend to these tender (see what I did there??) beings. I spent some time this weekend clearing out the weeds and leaves and sowing some early plants in my community garden, and it was clear that all of us felt a primal urge to get into the dirt, from which all nourishment springs. It’s kind of hard to ignore this feeling, because spring (and babies) are unrelenting when it comes to having their needs met. Between the rush of newly melted water, soil perfectly fertilized by the loamy concoction of decaying matter, and increasing sunlight, plants have an abundance of what they need to grow—and fast. And wouldn’t you be eager to get as big as possible if you’d been buried under the soil for months, trapped in a tiny seed, knowing that your tree- (or flower- or herb-)sized future was waiting for you? 

Growth is on everyone’s mind in spring. And yet, despite how gosh darn exciting it is, spring presents us with a version of the growth mindset that our Western culture has hopelessly misunderstood. Our baby plants, animals, and humans could certainly use the ingredients for growth to get as big as possible as fast as possible. But they still take their time. Plants’ growing seasons are spread out, so as to conserve resources for as long as possible; and to allow the right resources to be used at the right time. Some plants love moist soil and shade; some thrive in dry soil and full sun—so they won’t take root, or bloom, at the same time. Nature never rushes yet everything gets done, as they say.

And by beginning life in an environment of inherent patience, nature’s babies also help us answer the question that opened this reflection. 

You see, while all the blueprints for a plant’s life exist in its seed (or, in our human version, in our DNA), there’s one thing that those molecules can’t account for ahead of time: the changing nature of the present moment. If everything was clear and predictable—a version of life that would make a pitta or vata very happy—then faster growth might be possible while still maintaining a sense of equilibrium in our closed system of energy and resources. Every garden would thrive, since the conditions for growing would always stay the same. This, however, is not the world we live in. Some springs warm up in March; others stay cold until May. Some summers are sunny and dry; others are more like monsoon seasons. 

Our planet exists because of a very delicate balance of water and fire, the former acting as a buffer and container against the huge transformative powers of the latter. Most of life as we know it sprang from some watery origins—kaphic origins—evidence of which is still in our land-dwelling bodies, which are made mostly of water. Water is, indeed, what allows for smoother transitions in the unpredictability of life. Without water and earth coming together in kapha season, we’d move straight from vata to pitta—a literal firestorm antagonistic to life. Still, the ratios of water and fire are always shifting, especially in spring. With the winds of variable vata at our back, spring can feel like every season wrapped up in one. It can snow and reach 60 degrees within the span of a few weeks (which it did here in New York). While ideally, we could control these conditions to allow for an optimal transition into our new beginnings, things don’t quite work that way. And so to harmonize as best we can with the macrocosm, we adjust our microcosm. Taking baby steps toward new diets, routines, and rituals, we practice vigilance in monitoring how much water and fire our system has every day, throughout the day. This is no time to rush—in fact, the more still and slow you are in this particular seasonal transition, the better off you’ll be.

While it’s true that “like increases like, opposites balance” in Ayurvedic thinking, it’s also crucial that we don’t suppress the qualities/dosha of a season (or person) entirely.

The goal is not to be crushed (or drowned, or incinerated) by the opposite. And so we must slow ourselves down to the speed of kapha if we want to get past the beginning stage of anything. Kapha cannot, will not, be rushed. And if you try, its mighty forces of earth and water—the elements that contain everything in their grossest, most stable form—will remind you who’s boss.

***

The water that defines kapha season (think: cold, damp weather; stuffy noses and allergies; edema and sluggishness; SADness when winter drags on too long) is how we engage in the process of showing up for ourselves by honoring where we are right now before we attempt to grow. In the aftermath of vata season, we’ve used up our stores of food and comforts that we knew would be nourishing to our former selves. Now, cupboards empty, we begin again—except what we need might be different than before. We’ve been changed over the winter by everything we’ve ingested, digested, and eliminated; by resting in the dark, cozy cocoons of our homes and holidays; by waiting and believing that spring would come. Now, through the still-bare branches of the trees, we see in stark clarity those empty spaces for what they are, and can begin to imagine what might be appropriate, and pleasant, to fill them with. And with the waters of kapha rising, we can begin to truly sense what tastes good to us now—and let that nourishment help us grow into the unique being that has been waiting all winter to bloom. 

Like all the doshas, however, kapha can become destructive rather than nourishing when unchecked. Water can irrigate or flood; pleasure can satisfy or oversaturate. And so we’re reminded in spring to titrate our growth, namely through the quality and quantity of light we receive from the sun. The longer days can sometimes be a tease: while the increased sunlight signals warmth, it often belies hat-and-scarf temperatures, and for every sunny day there seems to be five gray, rainy ones. 

This situation demands that we remember the other source of light that is also increasing but less affected by the weather: our inner light. It’s by this light that we see mostly clearly what we need now and the path toward meeting those needs. It’s by this light that we develop the discipline (tapas) to meet those needs no matter what, prioritizing our Self not only for survival but for becoming a light and source of nourishment to others growing alongside us or sometime in the future. It’s by this light that we can dwell in the city of jewels for which the third chakra, Manipura, is named—the city where the light of our true Self shines not as a single, oppressive ray, but through a full spectrum of colors dancing off the infinite facets of our identities. 

This is the gift of the equinox—the moment of “balance” between light and dark. We can see enough to know exactly what to fill our empty spaces with and how much, and there’s enough nourishment around to go around for all of us to grow when it’s the right time. And as our collective lights get brighter—in our microcosms and macrocosms—we will bear fruit in the summer that nourishes us in still a different way. Kapha transformed into cool, juicy fruits is nothing like dense snow or mucus, but it all started the same way. Water + light + time = life.

***

This spring, I’m feeling especially encouraged by the possibilities for rebirth and a kind of growth that is patient, sustainable, and loving. It’s been a year of big feelings (another aspect of the water element) that required making hard decisions—some felt like swimming upstream, some felt like walking into a calm ocean and being lifted from below into floating. Moving between these extremes, and relishing in the pauses in between, I’ve watched my horizon widen when it comes to options for showing up for myself. Sure, shatavari and cacao and kitchari and savasana are all great, but so is sleeping when I’m tired; saying no to something I know I can do but just don’t want to do; putting down my editing pen while reading the story of my life and letting myself be moved by the plot whose ending I don’t know, by the author whose imagination and wisdom is far beyond mind. 

I’m writing this on the eve of my thirty-fifth birthday—something I normally wouldn’t disclose. Not just because of my age itself, but because I don’t like a lot of fanfare or attention paid to me. But in an effort to walk my talk, I’m practicing showing up on this celebratory occasion because I do actually feel like celebrating. While I won’t be throwing myself a party, this year, I acknowledge a shift in how I practice self-care. Having been burned one too many times by the vata-pitta firestorm I’m accustomed to, I recognize the preciousness of this body I’ve often felt burdened with maintaining, sometimes even trapped inside. I’ve felt how scary and desperate life becomes when kapha wanes. (Though when I think back, maybe kapha has been steering this ship the whole time, taking me slowly through the process of learning the language of my body while my mind whizzed ahead; maybe I was too much of a fish to see the water I am swimming in for what it is.) And for all the times I bemoaned how fragile my system is, it’s held up and bounced back after intense conditions. I may be more glass than rubber, but I haven’t completely shattered yet.

For this, I am grateful and ready to repent and begin again, tending to my tender self like I would any other being I was charged to care for. To show up for me.

I’m ready to relocate for my next chapter of life to somewhere a little more watery. Somewhere where I can spend more time floating than swimming upstream, or fighting to hold myself upright against the breakers. Where there’s enough light to show me how deep the water is, even while it dances along the surface. And even if it’s only for a season, I won’t take for granted how nice it feels to be a drop in the ocean; to be held like this.

If you’re practicing with me on the yoga mat this month, you can look forward to playing with the balance of water, earth, and fire in our movement: transitioning the ground up into standing poses, making space for more light and warmth to enter the system while still being supported. We’ll start to invite in more yang energy while remembering its roots in, and reliance, on yin. There’s no greater feeling than standing on legs that have been fed with the love and consistency of water and earth. This is how we enter into the state of yoga as it’s defined in the Yoga Sutras: where the fluctuations of the mind have been directed such that the Self can abide in its true nature. Where we bloom, with stability and sweetness, in the soil where we’ve planted, longing to be seen.


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