Written By: Stacy O’Neill, 500 RYT, CPT
My paternal grandfather used to say:
“Any barn looks good with a fresh coat of paint.” I imagine he meant that both literally and figuratively. He lived in Maine where barns are just part of the daily landscape and more specifically, his daily landscape. His barn, I’m sure, was painted often each spring to combat the effects of the harsh elements that battered and buffeted its siding into rustic softness. My grandfather was not a farmer by trade, so it would be understandable if he ignored the bland structure that “came with the house,” and allow it to eventually crumble into a heap. Having lived through the Depression, though, he learned to see new uses for outdated things simply by breathing a little life into them. He also knew quality when he saw it, and realized the multitude of possibilities that the barn offered his family.
There is something comforting and inviting about combining a weathered structure that has stood the test of time with a veil of something remarkably new. Economically, it might be better to raze it, but then the penciled hash marks on the door frame chronicling a little child’s growth, the worn rungs of the ladder up to the hay loft, and cobwebbed stall that shielded the family’s Shetland pony, would be reduced to a convenient memory. So we roll up our sleeves and do whatever is needed to update the structure without losing its essence. That old barn has stories to tell: lessons in love, loss, protection, survival, learning, and laughter as relevant today as they were years ago. It has history and mystery, and like a beloved grandfather dressed in his Sunday best settling into his distressed leather chair by the hearth, you want to draw up close, eager to immerse yourself into the comfortable retelling of those tales.
No matter how much time we have on this planet, the details that comprise our being provide the foundation for our own revival. Each of us have history and mystery uniquely ours comprised of traits that have been with us for as long as we can recollect: characteristics that we hang onto despite multiple self-renewals because they provide a good foundation upon which to build. So, prop up on an elbow for a few minutes to admire the shabby chic beauty of your Self and evaluate your current condition, as we take on our biggest and most important DIY project: self-renovantion.
Step 1: Reflect
No doubt this has prompted a mental eye roll possibly along with the following thought: I’m fine with who I am right now, and besides, I don’t have time for recreating myself. Fair enough, but take an objective look around your inner and outer landscape as they exist right now. Are there signs prompting you to create change? Little subtle changes, big gargantuan changes; changes that are seemingly outlandish, stupefying and nonsensical? Indications that you are on the verge of morphing into the next version of yourself may enter your sphere as a random, wacky idea. They are the residuals from daydreams when our super-consciousness is fired up and the pistons are revving. They are pure inspiration and colorful creativity. We tend to dismiss these quirky what if’s when instead we should be seriously considering them.
Still can’t see them? Take yourself for a walk around the block and open your attention and eyes wide to what nature is bombarding you with. Is there an animal, plant, or insect that keeps showing up? Known as totems, the energy brought by these gifts of nature can be clues to our roadmap for revision. For example, the hawk is a prevalent raptor throughout the United States with roughly 17 different types each carrying their own symbolic meaning. Chances are many of us have had encounters with them.
Hawks are known for their keen eyesight, hunting prowess, and as protectors of humans. Their energy represents focus, seeing beyond the surface, and creativity. For the purpose of this article, the Red-tailed Hawk is especially significant as “..it has ties to the Kundalini, the seat of the primal life force. In the human body, it is associated with the base chakra (Muladhara), located at the base of the spine . . . (Hawk) may pop up as a totem at that point in your life where you begin to move toward your soul purpose more dynamically” (Andrews 154). Ted Andrew’s reference to the root chakra is no coincidence. Muladhara translates as “root support” and when it is balanced, provides stability, like the foundation of the barn, so we can stand confidently and strongly in our current space/self. If the foundation is compromised, then any work we put into renovating may be compromised as well. Still, signs and day-dreamy ideas are the catalysts for encouraging us to examine the integrity of our foundation.
Step 2: REthink
I love this quote by author Elizabeth Gilbert: “You are allowed to be both a Masterpiece and a Work in Progress, simultaneously.” She gives us permission (hey, some of us need it!) to be and to become. We absolutely should be okay with where we are right now because without a modicum of comfort, we wouldn’t have the courage to consider other possibilities, rather like when you desperately need a job and nobody’s hiring, but when you’re feeling secure and gainfully employed, jobs seem to abound.
So yes, while it doesn’t seem like you need to resuscitate yourself at this juncture, this is, in fact, the perfect time to scout out the supplies you’ll need to paint the barn when the mood hits. Questioning, pondering, and musing help to form a shopping list of potential colors and design options that could invigorate the project, giving your re-do appeal. We should be regularly asking ourselves: Have I become complacent with my experience? Has the journey become predictable? Am I standing in my own way? What do I fear and why? Can creativity be a catalyst to metamorphosis? Or for that matter, where is my creativity? Don’t even try to answer these questions. Just ask them repeatedly.
Notice that scrutinizing is not part of the deal. This isn’t about comparison, criticism, and judgment, and if you find yourself going there, STOP . . . and breathe until you ramp down the negativity. The rethink is about recognizing the value of who we already are, and appreciating the full spectrum of choices we’ve made along the way.
Step 3: REcycle
Every change is precipitated by the tiniest gnat of an idea buzzing through your field of vision, but we can’t catch ideas if the mind is always focused on whatever is next and not what is in front of us. This is where yoga practice comes into play. Yoga invites us to energetically recycle simply through the breath: inhale, exhale and repeat. Try that the next time you actually sense a gnat hovering around, but you can’t quite see it. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. I bet you’ll hone in on the gnat through that expanse of focused stillness and pinch it between your index finger and thumb with lightning speed.
Our inhale and exhale is the most frequently accessible loop, and really our first introduction to the concept of recycling, in yoga practice and in life. Each time we breathe, we can invoke our freedom to reclaim our power. In those pivotal moments, we incrementally decide to move; to move forward; to move forward now. During the 60-75 minutes you carve out for a yoga session, the breath cycle and several other cyclical rhythms entrain our subtle body. At the peak of these brief kinetic crescendos, we can lean into the boundaries that currently define us. We can get more discrete with the subtleties contributing to our reservations about moving out of our comfortable place and exploring the unknown. The chanting of AUM, the ritual of opening and closing the practice by identifying intention, the breath cycle, sun salutation, and vinyasa all offer opportunities to choose to begin again and to change our perspective.
The dependable rhythm of sun salutation supports that decision by circulating thought and energy through the body: opening and closing the chest and ribs that shield the heart, extending and flexing the spine that protects our central nervous system, opening and closing the hips & pelvis that house the emotional sense of Self, and all of these having the dual effect of opening the mind. Maybe the walls will yield and we’ll expand our perimeter. If not, we can momentarily retreat and try again in the next cycle, maintaining gentle persistence against resistance.
You’re probably thinking: “I get it! I’m setting intention. I’m faithfully tending to my yoga practice, but nothing is happening.” Keep at it. Keep excavating. Truthfully, most of us don’t decide in only one nano-second of a moment to create permanent life change anyway. Lasting change happens over time: many smaller cycles within the larger cycle of change.
Step 4: REset
Part of the mechanism that moves the recycle process into a progressive upward spiral, as opposed to a habit forming hamster wheel, is the energy behind the intention. It is a two-fold technique of seeing it and saying it. Part one is visualizing it very clearly in your mind’s eye. Creating a visualization board comprised of pictures and words can be an eye catching reminder to stay the course. Part two is verbalizing your intention, not only in your head, but also out loud as often as you think about it. Even if you are the only one to hear it, verbalizing invites similar energy into your sphere that conspires with your intention to clarify it. The more you say it, the more you will find yourself thinking, doing, and living your transformation.
For a long time, I would respond to the question, “What do you do?” with: “I’m a yoga teacher who writes.” It occurred to me that putting my writing second in my response was an indication that I was putting it second in my life as well. I was sheepishly dragging my feet through the gravel of my prattled-out statement; afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Admittedly though, I wasn’t taking myself seriously.
I began doing what I learned in India six years ago and that I now advise my yoga warriors to do: repeating the phrase (or mantra) “I AM” as often as it occurred to me, until it became distinctly I AM . . . a writer who teaches. I began putting the writing first in every aspect of my life, prioritizing space for it in my mind and heart and physically in my home. Are you telling everyone and anyone who will give you two seconds of their time that you are what you desire to be? Maybe you don’t feel worthy enough?
In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert refers to the term “creative entitlement (as) believing that you are allowed to be here, and that merely by being here, you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own” (Gilbert 91). She stresses that this is not to be confused with the unmotivated, hand-out type of entitlement. Rather, it’s what we refer to in yoga as divine existence: understanding that we are created from divine energy and must follow our divine purpose. Unless we are embracing that off-the-charts essence and creating for the sake of creating, then we are neglecting our own evolution and letting the post, beam, and truss supports of the barn fall into wrack and ruin.
Step 5: REcommit
When I changed my mindset from half-hearted to “all in,” my writing changed as did my self-image. I’ve learned that intention isn’t something to focus on only when I’m snuggling into my practice, or when life unpleasantly throws me a curve ball. It is a 24/7 kind of commitment to staying consistently in the positive energetic flow. But ego can be a mean Nor’easter that slams away at the integrity you’ve painstakingly created. When the storm hits (and it will), it is good to have reinforcements in place.
Props like blocks and straps help us achieve stability and long, strong lines in yoga postures. They keep us honest. Without them, we overreach in eagerness to touch the floor or to bind fingers to toes; stressing the joints and over-challenging the resilience of muscular and connective tissues. Yet many yogis will bypass the assistance of props, using them only when everyone in the class is instructed to. A collective wave of comfort swirls around the room when we stop struggling and release into prop support, especially at points of transition from one posture into another.
Likewise, we can surround ourselves with energy that moves us towards our goal. We can encircle ourselves with colleagues, mentors, and friends who believe in our ability, probably because they currently are self-reinventing too. We often feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness; however, only a strong person can stand in her/his space and expose their weakest areas, seeking advice beyond our current level of understanding. Yoga is an excellent parallel as the collective energy of the class supports each individual, similar to a traditional barn raising which involves the help of the community to lift the walls of an individual farm’s structure into place.
Step 6: REvive
It occurred to me that we spend a lot of our days existing, but not necessarily truly living. If words containing the root “viv” from the Latin word vivere (to live) have meaning in reference to living, then consider this thought: By reviving our vivaciousness, we continue to survive vividly. Putting it another way, we need to repeatedly bring back to life our physical energy and mental agility to remain vibrant and actively engaged in the life process.
Interestingly, most of the cells that comprise our body replace themselves completely many times throughout our life experience. While it is generally accepted that the entire physical body (skin, bones, fluids, organs, muscles – all of it!) completes a major self-renewal every 7-10 years, specific cells regenerate in shorter periods of time. The New York Times article “Your Body is Younger Than You Think,” by Nicholas Wade refers to the work of Dr. Jonas Frisen, a stem cell biologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Wade states, “Although people may think of their body as a fairly permanent structure, most of it is in a state of constant flux as old cells are discarded and new ones generated in their place. Each kind of tissue has its own turnover time, depending in part on the workload endured by its cells. The cells lining the stomach . . . last only five days. The red blood cells, bruised and battered after traveling nearly 1,000 miles through the maze of the body’s circulatory system, last only 120 days or so on average before being dispatched to their graveyard in the spleen” (Wade Your Body).
Dr. Frisen’s research team is still working on identifying the lifespan of the specific cells of the heart and different sections of the brain. For now though, science generally accepts the data that the cells forming the eye’s inner lens, the cells forming the muscles of the heart, and the neurons of the cerebral cortex responsible for consciousness, memory, perception, attention, thought and language do not regenerate and are with us from birth to death. DNA mutations and/or the idea that stem cells needed for new tissue growth simply weaken over time may very well be the reason the aging process continues despite the majority of the body’s periodic regeneration.
Although questions remain in terms of the heart and head, it is clear that the body is built to self-heal. This is evidenced by the growth of new skin over minor abrasions and lacerations. Self-healing of any magnitude is possible and most successful when supported with a holistic approach incorporating traditional and alternative therapies. Dr. Lissa Rankin, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, believes that proactivity and conscientious stress reduction have a physiological effect that contributes substantially “to increasing the odds of spontaneous remission” (Rankin 10 Myths). Referring to an interview with “cancer thriver” and author Kris Carr, Dr. Rankin states, “Kris eloquently told me that she long ago relinquished the attachment to cure, choosing instead to define success as thriving, with or without cancer. Within such surrender, true healing lies” (Rankin 10 Myths).
Renewal of any kind takes consistency of commitment. Diligently purging rotted wood, patching the roof, inspecting the electrical wiring are some of the necessary components of a successful renovation project for a framework that has provided shelter to its inhabitants for so very long. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and riddled with setbacks and delays, but the results of our labor create a more resilient structure and revitalize its spirit. Since the body and mind work together, it is practically imperative that we also vow to keep the mind & spirit in a state of reinvention and radically alive. Our ability to transform ourselves is infinite and available at a moment’s notice whenever we decide. It’s as simple as adding a proverbial new coat of paint by changing your lifestyle and making self-care a priority on every level; staying in a constant state of learning, expanding the mind instead of contracting and revealing the beauty of the revised Self, while preserving the knowledge and experience afforded us through an evolution that is uniquely ours.
ACTION STEP: How do you RE?
The simple act of remembering all the advances we’ve made ignites the spark that fuels motivation. The prefix “Re” means again: anew, and back: backward. Grab your journal and a pen and reflect on the many ways & times you “Re” . . . in the last day, week, month, year, decade. Maybe begin with the words “I AM . . .” Yogi’s Disclaimer: euphoria, hand cramps, spontaneous combustion and light bending may occur as a result of your feverish writing. This may be your portal to your reinvention!