14 September 2010


I love ritual.  I always have. I like waking up in the morning, pressing the "on" button for the coffee maker (even if it is Teecino), pouring it into the same mug with the same spoon of cocoa and homemade almond milk, wrapping my hands around the familiar warmth, snuggling into the same corner of the couch, turning the Today show on and ignoring it while I wander around on the internet.  I love the time of year after Halloween when the season inevitably turns and the holidays are suddenly in the air; when I get to watch the same movies that I've watched in these months for 15 years.  During college, I would run along the same route every single night - the same route that my cousin took me on the very first day I moved to town.  I loved the innate feeling that went along with each bend in the road, that my body knew exactly where it was without my brain having to analyze anything.  I ran to the same playlist, night after night, too, so that the same bends and paths had the exact same tempo and message blaring through my ears at the exact same time each and every night.

Though I've run along new paths since then, and lately have quit running altogether (after having been chastised repeatedly for enjoying running by my various yoga teachers), the music that I would listen to then still instigates in me something vastly inspiring whenever I hear it now.  And, while some of the music is probably not the most scholarly or even inspirational, it all served a purpose.  And honestly, does it really matter from where or what you draw inspiration?  A few tracks to illuminate the rest of the conversation:

"Punk Rock Princess" Something Corporate
"Move Along" The All-American Rejects
"Unwritten" Natasha Bedingfield
"Gold Digger" Kanye West
"Beautiful Day" U2
"Breathe Me" Sia
"Hands Open" Snow Patrol
"Mr. Blue Sky" Electric Light Orchestra
"Hollaback Girl" Gwen Stefani
"Sugar, We're Goin' Down" Fall Out Boy

Like I said, some aren't the most inspirational. "Gold Digger," for instance, made me laugh - while running - every time, and that's enough to give it purpose in any runner's playlist.  "Sugar, We're Goin Down" is simply the best tempo to run to ever; it was also the last song of my run, the last three minutes of my 5k, and as it swelled I picked up my pace and sprinted home.  Others, however trite or cliched, still give me chills every time I hear them.  Not because of their philosophical depth or because they astonish me with their wisdom, but because they offer simple advice that is completely, immediately achievable today and in this very moment. When I was running, they served as a reminder that no matter how short of breath I felt, no matter how much my muscles were screaming, no matter how much I wanted the next step to be a walk and not another run, I could do this again tonight, because I'd done it the night before, and the night before that.  These melodies and lyrics helped me persevere and prompted significant change in my body.  As I listen to "Move Along," there's a part after the bridge where the drums break the silence and I can still feel my whole body stiffen with adrenaline, as if I'm bracing myself to keep moving.  They were part of a ritual and an important part, at that.

I've always loved a song's ability to take you back to an exact moment in time.  There are certain choruses I hear that, no matter where I am now, I am immediately trying to find parking outside of the library on a cold, February day; or, I'm dancing, a little buzzed, holding a cigarette, and laughing on the roof with my college roommate on a summer night; or I'm trying to see the road through eyes soaked from hours of tears, unsure of what comes next.  I can feel those moments, immediately transported by the magic that is created when random notes and tempos are mashed together into a song.  But, beyond  that transportation to a specific moment, past the memories, there is an evocation of feelings.  The ability  these songs have to draw upon a stored power from a  memory of what it feels like to be strong and capable in a moment of uncertainty.

I'm certainly not saying I don't feel strong and capable right now - I do!  More capable than at any time I can ever remember.  I'm speaking, instead, of those moments amidst strength and achievements, those little cloudy thoughts between the clear lines, when uncertainty and maybe a little despair creep in, albeit momentarily.  The time between your last exhale and your next inhale when you're not sure if you get to breathe in again.  That tiny little second, that momentary loss of focus when you aren't sure you can keep up in the stellar way you've been moving.  How can I keep going if I've already come this far?  How much do I have left to give?  It's a millisecond; a small, simple amount of time.  It's ample time, though, for doubt and discouragement to find the crack and start seeping in.  Which is why, I think, these simple, messages have come to mean so much to me.  They have provided muscle memory.  Muscle memory beyond the mere physical; it's now emotional.  It's the same way my legs knew when they rounded Memorial Union - without my brain having to tell them or consciously think out loud - that they'd almost carried me to completion, the race was almost over!  And the feeling would wash over my body until my brain caught up and realized its determination.  My body's confidence became a safeguard, sealing that leak with strength in case my mind should fail.

I took two yoga classes yesterday.  At some point during the second class, there was a moment when my shoulders were collapsing.  I was in down-dog and I could feel my courage exhausting with my muscles.  And, from somewhere, deep in all the tissue and ligaments and bones, I could hear, "Reaching for something in the distance, so close you can almost taste it, release your inhibitions!"  And my arms stretched forward, my legs stretched back - they knew they were reaching for something in the distance.  They knew - without my brain's awareness - that I wasn't allowed to give up yet.  (Natasha Bedingfield residing in my muscles is a little creepy - we'll discuss that at a later time.)

In so many spiritual texts, it's all about the mind training the body.  And, while I know my muscles don't actually have any thoughts, that these empowering moments are, indeed, all coming from within my mind, I can't help but feel that this body is also training it's mind.  As my physical body overcomes the challenges set in front of it, my spiritual body is reminded of how far it has also come.  That I'm right in the middle of all sorts of obstacles and changes, but have also already come so far, and will continue to move in that same strength.  My physical muscles are teaching my emotional muscles - on and off my mat - that in that moment between breaths, there can only be certainty that I will keep moving.  It's ritual.  It's completing a task that you've done thousands of times before and finding comfort in the knowledge of that preceding wisdom.  Doubt has no existence as nothing would be accomplished if it were in place of certainty - and so much has been accomplished!  The soundtrack serves as a reminder to what I already know, providing the map back to where I've already been.  And slowly, my soundtrack is becoming internalized.  I'm listening to the songs my own body is singing in these moments and hearing that I'm capable as I prove it to myself over and over and over.

I love ritual.  I love knowing this has happened before and will happen again and I will take the same joy and delight in it that I have before.  I love drawing on the shared emotions between who I was and who I am to find strength and courage to keep evolving who I'll become.  


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home