I did this piece of art awhile back for a friend. She was the first person who had ever actually asked me to do a painting for her. She gave me a big piece of canvas already stretched and asked me to do a piece that would fill it.
I was psyched: a commissioned piece. I started the day she gave it to me. I painted and wrote and worked colors and words into the piece until I thought I had something. Then I asked her to come and see it. She didn’t come. I waited a week, a month and then two. I reworked the piece. I repainted and rewrote the whole thing. I liked it more. It said more with less. Where I had a million positive affirmations before, now I had only one: face your fear… and it dissolves into love. Those few words in red sketched on a sunset background of blues and greens and oranges made me smile. I called my friend again and told her it was ready. Again, she never came. I waited a month, then two, and then a whole year as it sat collecting dust in my little studio/storage space. Lots of time to think about it: facing my fears.
There are so many that we deal with, right? For a little while it was the fear that my friend would never come back for that piece of art. I was afraid it was insignificant to her, all my hours and energy poured into something she didn’t even want to see. Worse was the fear that she would come and not like it. Then I said screw it and I hung the painting in one of my little rental houses here in Tulum. Lots of people see it and they like it or not. They don’t say much. I don’t ask for their opinion or approval. I am a little afraid. When I asked Rafael my worker to hang it, he had one of those smiles that I couldn’t tell if he liked it or not. But I pushed away the fear that he was laughing at me. And when I couldn’t push it away, I just let it go. And that was a great lesson. Facing our fears teaches us things about letting go.
And there is always something new to be afraid of and to come to terms with. If you don’t face it, the fear controls you. It inhibits you. Like in yoga. We face fears about certain postures, like inversions or taking that bind or jump. Even the fear just going to a class, definitely the fear of teaching that class. But once you face your fear, you own your power over that fear. You release it and a whole lot of emotional stuff that is behind that fear.
Next week I will have surgery on my left hip. I am afraid. That hip is a place I have held onto and filled with stuff for a long time. You see, I was born with a dislocated left hip and until I started walking, no one noticed it. I wonder sometimes if it ever hurt as a baby. I don’t remember. But I know that at about 2, I wore a near body cast for almost a year. It was more traumatic for my parents but I know that I have a weird relationship with that left hip. It has held me back and pushed me forward and made me adjust and modify my life every single day; from laying on the dinner table with my 6 siblings sitting around me as a baby because I couldn’t sit in the body cast, to icing before long meetings because I couldn’t sit through them, my left hip has always talked to me and I always adjusted my life to accommodate it. And I denied that there was anything wrong with that.
About 3 years ago, my left hip started not talking to me anymore. It started screaming. I still remember the moment: I was walking the beach with my dogs (who I still miss everyday) and I had to stop and sit because it was too painful to move. I waited for the pain to pass but it didn’t. I engaged my bandas to try to support myself and walk but it didn’t work. Each time I took a step it was excruciatingly painful. I limped home, pulled myself up the 2 flights of stairs to my loft space in the trees, fed the dogs, laid in the hammock and wondered where I could buy a wheel chair. My biggest fear: immobility.
I went to see the new chiropractor in Tulum, Dr. Michael, and we started work. Second biggest fear: everyone in this little town would know I was not perfect. How could I be a yoga teacher and not be perfect? I told people I hurt my back and took 3 months off work. Dr. Michael gave me exercises. I did them three times a day. I saw him 2 times a week and little by little I got my mobility back. I was still in pain but I could move. Then I added massage and acupuncture as well. I did everything I could to make the hip well. And I modified my life to deal with it. And I modified my practice to help me heal it.
Now three years later, about a million chiropractic sessions and massages behind me and about a million painful steps with good posture and yoga, I will get a new hip. And like I said, I am afraid. Not only of the surgery, but of being perceived as old, of getting old. I am still facing that imperfection fear, that why me. And yes I tell myself “why not me” but it doesn’t always help. But, in going through the process, working it out until I could admit I needed help, this painful, talkative hip taught me some great lessons: perseverance is one, patience is another, not to beep at people crossing the street slowly and remember that perhaps they cannot walk faster is a third. It also showed me that if someone looks like they are struggling with bags, help them because they probably are. I will never tell someone they walk funny or “I can fix that”, referring to something they do naturally as if it is a deficiency. When I feel good enough to stand without pain, I will offer my seat on the train or the bus. And if I can soon jump and do a summersault, I will remind myself daily how good it feels, just like I remind myself now of the joy in movement. And I know that if I face my fear, it will dissolve into love. Just like my fears of losing mobility, of having the privilege of aging and of developing empathy for other human beings has dissolved into self-love and a willingness to face those fears and take care of myself in the best manner possible.