Today I decided to liberate myself. I’ve been waiting for it to happen on its own—that is, after more time, more space, more dreams, more practice, more yoga, more therapy, more writing things down, more martinis with L.B., more talks with Ang, more Toby love, more overall, darling Maud, period—and I guess maybe it happened. My challenge was breaking free from my sadness and preoccupation without shutting down my heart, without building a wall of anger, which was how I’ve “liberated” myself so far in this lifetime. I am really adept at that, and I’ve hurt people with that particular habit and defense.
So. Berkley has always used a phrase with her boys—”Fly, baby, be free”—which I’ve decided to adopt today. Fly, baby, be free: that’s to you, whomever you are, and to me. Everyone gets to fly, and if you want to come back and visit, you can. If you don’t, that’s completely fine: Fly, baby, be free.
Anyway, now’s the time to tell you why I’m talking so much about yoga these days. I think it has to do with a day over the winter when this completely cool and sexy psychopharmacologist I was visiting told me that I was experiencing “learned helplessness.”
I knew what “learned helplessness” was from having written a piece about stress a few years before: Some scientists were experimenting on dogs in the nineteen-seventies, you see, and discovered that if they put the dogs in a box with a doorway, and shocked them, the dogs would run through the doorway to safety. But if they put the dogs in a box with a doorway and held them in place (by putting their back legs in slings—ugh) and then shocked them a few times (ugh X ten), when the dogs were finally set free, they wouldn’t run through the doorway. They’d learned helplessness.
So. That was my diagnosis. (I’m not pointing fingers here.) What I was surprised to discover when I started dragging my sorry self to yoga this past winter, just to get a little space in my joints, is that I was slowly changing my circumstances for the better. Slowly I was getting physically stronger. Slowly I was starting to look better, and feel better physically. All I had to do was show up in shorts and T-shirt, and someone would tell me what to do for an hour and a half, and on top of that, the good teachers would talk every class about freedom. Or they’d talk about not being so hard on oneself. Or they’d ask if there was something we’d done that day that made us feel proud. Yesterday Colleen talked about looking inside our bodies in meditation and seeing that there was infinite space—there are infinite possibilities.
So this is what I’d like to tell you this rainy morning, as the birds are singing their socked-away songs, and the light is bright from behind the clouds: I don’t want to be a glass-half-empty person anymore. I’m beginning to look around me and I see that part of myself reflected all over the place, in lots and lots of grumpy, angsty, sad people and situations. I’m not stuck in sling, and I can see the door, even though sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to get from here to there.
This is why I’m talking so much about yoga. Because when I take the two ferries to Sag Harbor and walk into Colleen and Rodney’s studio and they’re in there smiling—even though I’m sure they’ve got serious stressors of their own—I feel like I’m walking through that door to a place where I’m not only not helpless, but I’m happy and I’m free and safe.