I walked in off the street, to a yoga class billed as “Sweet Vinyassa.” It’s been a week of new places and new faces, from the moment I arrived last Wednesday night on the doorstep of a friend I’d never met in La Canada, California, to this morning, when I found myself asked to bend over backwards and let go.
A week after my book came out, an e-mail appeared in my in-box: “You and I are kindred spirits,” it read, “and we would be fast friends if we were to meet.” Fast forward six months — and my husband and I were unpacking our bags in Tracy’s guest bedroom. Suddenly, my world felt a whole lot bigger.
Tracy and I had written back and forth after that first letter, and from the very beginning something just clicked. We became friends even without meeting. And so when she invited me to come to California, to stay at her house and speak to a large parent education group at a church in her town, a little voice inside me whispered, “Just say yes.”
I haven’t been to California for twenty years. The thought of speaking in front of a large group makes my palms sweat. Leaving my home is always hard for me. I’ve never stayed over night with someone I didn’t already know. And yet. . .
I turned 51 last fall, and something inside me shifted. After years of putting off travel, adventure, experiences that might take me right out of my comfort zone, I finally began to ask myself: If not now, when? Facing up to the hard, cold fact of half a century plus on the planet, I also had to confront the truth that anything I put off now, to some undetermined point in the future, might not ever happen at all. So I made a vow to myself on my birthday last year to accept the adventures that are offered to me, even if they do make my palms sweat.
And so, last Monday I bought myself a gray silk Eileen Fisher suit on sale for half price (the most beautiful, grown-up thing I’ve ever owned), and on Wednesday morning my husband Steve and I got up early, shoveled ten inches of fresh snow, and headed for the airport. In the last few days, thanks to Tracy’s vision, hard work, and hospitality, I have given a talk to two hundred smart, incredibly welcoming women. I have spoken and read at a bookstore, signed well over a hundred copies of my book, and been the guest of honor at the loveliest ladies’ tea party imaginable. I took a hike into the Southern California mountains with a group of women who felt like old friends before we’d panted our way up the first hill. And I had the great joy of sitting down at the end of a long day, kicking off my shoes and getting to know my email pen-pal really well, face-to-face at last — not to mention her kind, funny husband and her three beautiful, nearly grown children, who conspired to make two perfect strangers from the east coast feel like old, dear friends.
After photos and hugs and good-byes in La Canada on Saturday morning, it was on to LA, to meet another e-mail friend, writer and Zen teacher Karen Maezen Miller, whose book Hand Wash Cold will come out this spring. After two months of e-mails back and forth, and books exchanged and read avidly, Maezen and I took all of about thirty seconds to acclimate to one another in person. And then we walked through her 100-year-old Japanese garden, ate orange muffins, jumped into her nifty electric car, and made our way into the city for a dharma talk at the Zen center that is her spiritual home.
“This is really my life?” I thought, as Steve and I took our places, sitting cross-legged on plump round pillows at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, the only “civilians” amidst a room full of Buddhist monks with shaved heads and long black robes. And yet, after three days of non-stop talking and smiling, it was a relief to be silent, to bow and to sit and to listen. To be reminded that the only moment is the present moment, the beautiful gift of right here and right now. Sun poured through the windows. Silence ripened. My mind, nothing but busy for weeks and weeks, grew quiet at last.
Now, with the “work” part of this trip behind me, I’m on holiday in Ojai, enjoying a bit of vacation with my husband at a quaint bed and breakfast. It feels good to relax and exhale, to take a long walk, read a book on the porch, wander through the farmer’s market. And yet, even here, the opportunity to stretch presents itself.
“Just bend your knees and allow yourself to let go,” the yoga teacher suggested to me this morning. She’d picked me, the stranger who’d just happened to show up in class, to demonstrate a backbend. No, I’d never done one before. (I’m pretty sure that’s why she chose me, actually.) But after a week of letting go and having faith that where ever I was, was exactly where I was meant to be, bending over backwards didn’t seem all that scary.
Two pairs of strong hands supported my back, as I reached my arms up over my head and started to go over. And moments later I was in a place I’d never been before, palms on the floor, heart lifted, feet planted, back-bending.
Tonight, as I sit in front of a cozy fire in our Ojai B&B, far from home, typing these words, I feel just a little bit like I did this morning when I bent over backwards. Which is to say, I am reminded that life is one big invitation to say “yes” and then let go. What I loved most about this week was not the book sales and accolades from fans of my work (nice as that was!), but rather that sense of support, right at hand when I needed it most. There was a moment, as I stood in front of the crowd giving my talk, when my legs stopped shaking and I began to sense instead the warm, supportive energy in the room. I realized it then; was made aware of it again this morning in a yoga class where I knew not a soul: Let go, and you’ll be caught. Let go, and then feel the joy of knowing that there will a hand at your back if you need it, ready to hold you, to guide you, to make sure you don’t fall over, or fall apart, or fall through the cracks.
Speaking to a room full of women was sort of like bending over backwards. In each case, I met myself in a new place, thanks to some help from strangers who were just friends I hadn’t met yet.