Passover has always been my favorite religious holiday. The story of the Jews finding freedom from Pharaoh’s oppression has always felt particularly meaningful and reflects, in part, my historical commitment to pursuits of social justice. Looking back, I can also see that the demands of being loyal to family secrets and dynamics felt no less than oppressive, and the quest to follow my own truth as arduous as trying to cross the Red Sea.
Stories of finding freedom are inspiring and hopeful, but they also contain elements of challenge. Letting go of the past can be exhilarating, but like winning any battle, it comes with losses. Not the least of these is realizing who you might have become had the road ahead of you been clear from the start. Finding a new identity may not come easily. It requires shifting your relationship to everything that came before, which can be difficult. Unlike a physical journey where you can move away and never return home, the specter of the psychic past may always be present, occasionally rising up to pull you backwards. It takes vigilance to get used to being on new and solid ground, and the passage may result in some injuries.
I’m reminded of when I began to practice Yoga, 20 years ago. I was a fitness instructor and in great shape at the time, but Yoga was harder than I ever expected. Each time I went to class, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I also couldn’t wait to get back, sensing on some level that I needed to be there. I would practice diligently for a while and then slack off. I would make great gains in strength and flexibility, but then go home and compulsively overeat, thereby blocking the flow of energy opened up through practice. This battle went on for years before I understood that what I was really doing was fighting for the freedom Yoga promises while still firmly tethering myself to the past.
About 10 years ago, my battle found a profound embodiment. I was at a place in my practice where I was strong, flexible, and feeling great. I happened to take a class with a teacher who was known for “pushing” students. I was a teacher myself, so I had no problem with the deep postures we practiced, and felt I was in tune enough with my body to avoid injury. The postures indeed felt exhilarating and made me feel I was now truly on the Yoga path.
Shortly afterward, my back began to bother me a little. I assumed I had “tweaked” it, and that it would self-correct. It didn’t, and continued to nag. I kept doing whatever I was doing and eventually, the pain became worse. I had a sense that this was not just a physical manifestation, but that I had opened up something energetically that I was simultaneously fighting against. I tried many interventions to address it, but nothing worked. The pain became a chronic affliction, and slowed me down to the point of almost giving up on Yoga completely. I felt defeated, not just in my body but in my life.
Fortunately, I found the power of mindfulness practice, which allowed me to face head-on those beliefs to which I was still bound, and pushed me to finally stand up to that outdated loyalty. Joining this practice with a renewed commitment to Yoga has allowed energy to start flowing on all levels — physically, mentally and emotionally. The back pain is still there, but it’s changing — it’s beginning to shift in intensity and feeling. Sometimes, it disappears completely.
As I navigate these shifts, I am mourning the losses that accompany them, not the least of which are the opportunities that passed me by. However, becoming better at mindfully embracing the newness of the present, unencumbered by imprints of the past or expectations of the future, I am beginning to move forward, putting this particular battle behind me, with the hope of finding it is true after all that “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”