Today is day 41 of not smoking. I haven’t written in over a week, and this past week was one of the hardest so far. Getting further away from who I used to be. The first week was beyond hard. This week was simply hard. And these weeks will continue to be hard. Brutally hard. And yet those things that are most difficult are our best teachers. At least that’s what my new yoga instructor says. Let me explain:
To re-learn how to breath, and in an effort to completely change my habits by beginning new daily routines, I’ve started taking Yoga classes. Ha! No, shit, right? Yes. I have. In part, thanks to Misty my amazing girlfriend who helped me build the courage to try by teaching me a few basic poses. And my instructor, the beautiful, calm, serene, thorough, strong, Lee seems to channel Rainer Marie Rilke, baseball, psychoanalysis and therapy through her all-encompassing hour-and-a-half-long journey of sincerest instruction and careful diction. Though I am reading only now, as any backward American doing before knowing, about the origins of Yoga and its practice, having delved into my first classes not knowing much about its history, it was important to have such an immediately and personally fulfilling experience, leaving me room to humbly (perhaps foolishly even) interpret its practice as I desired.
In the middle of my second class, in the middle of one my hardest weeks fighting against my desire to return to being a smoker, after a craving/withdrawal-induced bought of irrationality that lead to useless arguments with my incredibly supportive lover, I came to tears in a pose where I was forced to sit with myself, uncomfortably, while watching most of the others who were able to stretch more deeply and effortlessly into a more enlightened or more practiced position. I was frustrated. I was happy. I was contradiction, cross-legged. As I was noticing the extent to which I was being forced to confront the limits of my comfort, in began Lee with her careful language. Kindly, gently she began: “Notice where you are. Notice how you feel in this pose. That you are judging yourself and others. And now let go. Let go of that judgment. Accept who you are in this moment and in this pose as far as you can take it. To really move through something, one has to move through it. One can’t go around it. Here we can learn to detach ourslelves from the hierarchy of experience and learn to simply experience each experience more fully. Pain. Happiness. Etc. We can learn that the hardest things, the most difficult things are often our best teachers.”
So writes Rilke in Letter to a Young Poet: “Seek what is difficult.”
“Hit the curveball. It’s difficult. Take away the opponent’s strength.”
“Try the left-handed lay-up again,” said my father after I said it was impossible. I made the shot.
Face yourself and embrace your weakness as a strength.
This does not mean, “be a masochist, hurt yourself,” or simply, “Do what’s hard!” I think, more lightly it is encouraging us to not run away. That what’s difficult can be the most beneficial when we confront what exactly is difficult.
Like a tight hamstring. That part in the back of my leg that hurts when I try to bend over while standing to put my palm on the floor. Easier to notice than whatever slow churning your soul has been doing while you’ve been continually pushing down the flames with smoke. Fighting fire with fire. Equals more fire. Easier to notice. But good practice. Simulation. To take into life’s poses.
Like the loss. Losing. The loss of identity. The not knowing what to do when I’m angry or sad or want to celebrate or when I’m bored. The comfort of the routine. The crutch of it, the addiction. An excuse to be idle. A reminder of who I am/was. Certainty. I am a smoke . Now I am another. The confusion. The rawness. Wanting to simply yell. Wanting to rationalize in any way smoking just one cigarette. In public. For all to see. In private. Just for me to see. I’ll buy a pipe, I say to myself. I’ll smoke a cigar with the police officers in the cigar store on 30th St. and 8th avenue. I’ll wait to smoke until Scott’s wedding in May. That’ll be okay. Fishing and the boys and woodsmoke and cigarettes naturally. Whiskey and all. Blowing smoke at the sky, at the moon. Guilty then. Cynthia means moon. Blowing smoke at a symbol of my mother. Letting go of guilt. Being aware. Being aware of being aware. Being a ware. A wear, being. War. A war. Being, a war. Battle. To confront. Front line. To the wolves of ourselves. We throw ourselves. In Italian one says, “in bocca al lupo” to say “good luck”. Into the mouth of the wolf. I’ve always taken that to mean, “that you may go into the mouth of the wolf and come out alive”. Into the depths of ourselves.
And then, always, the hope. The light. Stretching a centimeter more the next day. Breathing more deeply. Singing a better note. Feeling rested. Leaning in. Pushing back not pushing. Facing. More than coping, changing. Now I am another. The hope inside being able to believe those words are good.