Last weekend I was doing some fairly intensive yoga down in Ojai with some lovely people who don't scare me at all anymore. About a dozen of us did our yoga practice in a canvas-walled yurt where the morning temperature hovered in the high 80s. We hiked to a swimming hole in 100-degree heat. I think every drop of water I drank over the weekend came straight out my pores. (I may have peed once over the course of three days, but no one can prove my kidneys had anything to do with it.) I ate kale and beets and chocolate mousse, and even though I'd been saving for months to be there with interesting people and do one of the things I love most, come Sunday morning all I wanted to do was lie on my mat and give up. Give up what? Who knows. Health? Making any effort at all to care about my aging body? I just wanted to stop fighting and let life take over and carry me through whatever came next. Stiffness, decay, total inertia, death. Whatever. Who was I kidding? How was wedging my foot behind my neck going to help?
(You can see where my mind has been lately.)
Here are some more incontestable reasons I thought of, while lying on the floor of that yurt, for giving up ashtanga yoga.
- I'm old and stiff and it hurts
- I'm old and I'm goddamned tired
- Laziness and quitting run in my family
- Who am I to argue with tradition?
- What's yoga ever done for me?
- These stupid stretch pants cost sixty dollars
- Sixty dollars!
- Why didn't I start doing this when I was 20?
- Of course I got my period this weekend
- And I forgot my vitamins
- I wonder if they still make Geritol?
- What the hell was that sound?
- How many times can a car backfire?
- Wait -- is there a firing range nearby?
- It's either someone's doing target practice or a whole lot of people are getting murdered out there
- Stray bullet, stray bullet, stray bullet, stray bullet
- Please, God, make it quick and painless
When I got back to the real world, of course, I became completely depressed. I had post-retreat letdown, I think -- the way coming back from even a short vacation can throw the hollowness of daily life into sharp relief. I had dreaded going on retreat, my life and routines having such a firm hold on me, but now there was so much more to dread coming back from it!
This is why people drink. I understand that now.
I thought of my mom, the way her hamstrings atrophied, lying there in bed after she broke her ankle and became afraid to walk. My mom gave up. Her heart was so tired and she spent the last years of her life lying in bed, waiting to check out. Is this how she felt? Jesus, why didn't we get her some Prozac?
The thing was, even though my heart was heavy, after all that yoga my body felt remarkably not-painful and un-stiff. So I had a glimmer of a thought that maybe, despite the utter futility of existence, it wouldn't be such a bad idea to unabandon a regular yoga practice. So I got up and went to practice Tuesday morning and I got up again today, and when that feeling washed over me, that feeling that I wanted just to fucking GIVE UP, I gave in to it. I gave up! It was the easiest thing in the world to do. What a relief! I give up! Here, take it! Take this shitty feeling, universe, I don't want it anymore.
Oh, I kept practicing. I kept bending and stretching and breathing into my injured right hip and sweating through my $60 yoga pants, but I kept going and I gave up at the same time. I took a deep breath and I gave up feeling oppressed. I exhaled and gave up hating hard work. I became a fucking Nike ad and I Just Did It. I stood on my head and stopped worrying about being tired the rest of the day, or thinking about anything other than staying upright and counting my breaths. Death can come this afternoon or it can come when I'm 100 years old (or maybe I'll get cryogenically preserved and wake up in the year 2410 to find my thawed-out head sewn onto the body of a chihuahua -- but even that chihuahua body's going to wear out, and let's face it, my head is going to look like hell). And, yes, that's a drag. But what am I going to do, bitch about it for the next fifty-four years? Or am I going to live my life?
Mid-life crises are a tawdry cliche, and being in your forties means different things to different people. But it seems like a common thread that pierces everyone's heart eventually is when you finally start to grasp the inevitability of your own demise. I'm coming at it a little sideways, frankly; I'm not prepared to face it head on, and maybe no one with a young child at home is. Writing a will that sends your possibly-orphaned child to go live with relatives is one of the more devastating acts of parenthood. It feels absolutely crucial to stick around for the sake of this small, somewhat-helpless, desperately-loved person. (What was it Roseanne Barr said when she had her last child? "Oh, great, another reason to live.")
I'm just trying to do my best.