This week in the mid-Atlantic, we’re digging ourselves out from a blizzard. The snow started falling on Friday and didn’t stop until sometime in the middle of the night on Sunday, leaving over 2 feet of snow. The mounds of snow post-plow are even higher, reaching to the very top of the “neck” of some stop signs. The roads are not yet even entirely clear, with snow piles drifting into the outer most lanes. This is our 6th day at home. School has been closed. Yoga has been hit or miss because of limited parking. Even Milly is getting a little weary of the snow. Although she is still eager to make snow angels, I think she’s tired of putting on all of her snow gear.
We’re still in the process of unearthing ourselves from this weather-imposed hibernation.
Digging out takes awhile.
I think we expect it to happen all at once, but unfortunately, that’s not how things work. As I drove to teach my class last night, I noticed cars parked at funny angles, cars still submerged in snow, and broken shovels protruding from snow piles like the sword in the stone.
2 feet of snow doesn’t go away overnight. Or even in a week. Mounds of snow will stay for awhile, complicating our commutes and making even the simplest actions like grocery shopping, a more strenuous ordeal.
This is not unlike trying to reemerge from habits or patterns we get stuck in. There’s a great word for this in Sanskrit, which is samscara. A samscara is a deep groove in our unconscious or even conscious behavior. The longer we do it, the deeper the trench. Eventually, the groove is so deep that we can’t see out of it on either side. So we just keep plowing forward.
We get so dug in, the very idea of chipping away at the sides to climb out feels impossible.
These samscaras can be as simple and relatively benign as always stepping your left leg back into a lunge from a forward bend. Or samscaras can be as unhealthy as smoking. We become so deeply entrenched in these actions that not only are we unable to see the possibility for a new path, but these habits become a part of our identity.
I used to think of myself as a night owl. Ever since I was a child, I would stay up late. When I was a kid, I’d read deep into the night. When I was in high school, I’d stay up until 2am so finish a story for the school newspaper (or more accurately, my mom would stay up late with me while I would dictate my story to her because she was a faster typist. I have a great mom). When I was in college, I’d stay up until the wee hours with friends, either roaming the streets of New York or hanging out in bars until they closed or working late in the darkroom printing photos for a class. Eventually, I even found work in a bar, sometimes finishing my shift at 4am. In my mid to late twenties, I’d stay up late just on principle. I refused to be in bed before 11am. Somehow the thought of going to bed early was unappealing. I felt like I was giving in.
The odd thing was that I was never much of a late riser. I’ve always liked getting up early, which meant there were times I was getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep regularly and intentionally. It’s a minor miracle that I didn’t end up like Edward Norton in Fight Club, hallucinating an alternate persona from lack of sleep.
After Milly was born, I realized things needed to change but I had no idea how. I’d even gotten into the habit of late night yoga practices since the only time I could think of to get on my yoga mat uninterrupted was after she’d finally fallen asleep.
I was entrenched. Walls of snow piled high on either side. A tunnel already plowed ahead of me, but nothing to help me climb out of my snow cave. No ice picks. No shovels. Nothing.
So I had to start small. I didn’t suddenly start going to bed at 10pm. I started by finding a better time to practice yoga. I started with something I felt was manageable. And since I also realized the best/only time I could go for a run was early in the am before Nathan left for work, that provided additional incentive to wake up earlier to get on my mat or get out of the house. After awhile, I felt a small shift in my perception of myself. I was someone who liked to wake up early. I always had been this person, but she had been dormant for awhile. Those first 6 months post-partum are intense. And if I liked waking up early, that also meant an earlier bedtime so that I had the energy to move in the morning and wouldn’t be dragging myself through my day. This led to a whole new set of small steps, chipping away at my samscara snow drifts. I stopped watching tv after 9pm. I stopped doing work after 8pm. Stopped checking my facebook in bed. Stopped responding to emails after dinner. Eventually, I released my night owl identity in service of creating a new set of habits, rituals, and actions that allowed me to feel more awake and alive during the day, as well as honoring the person I was becoming. A Morning Person.
If I’d tried to make all of this happen in one day or one week, I would have failed. Miserably. I would probably still be exhausted all day long, squeezing in yoga whenever I could manage it, and staying up late into the night answering emails. In short, I’d be a lot crankier.
Need a quick list to dig yourself out of your own samscaras?
- Start small to create subtle, but helpful shifts. These small steps can redirect your focus from the immediate issue. You can think of it as creating little grooves in the sides of the trench. Enough to hold onto or haul yourself up to a new vantage point.
- Observe your identity shift. What has been unearthed within you as you shift your focus and create small new pathways within the same, familiar habit? What part of yourself is emerging?
- Slowly start to add in micro-steps. Small enough that they are easy to do, but big enough that they encourage you to take more steps up when you’re ready.
- Re-emerge into a new series of pathways that support the healthier or preferred habits, routines, or pattern you’ve created.
- Continue to refine. Listen to your needs. Adjust as your body and your life requests.
My neighbor across the street has been very smart during this blizzard. He stayed tucked away inside his house during the first 24 hours of big snow. Around mid-afternoon on Saturday, he started shoveling his front walk. Then went back inside. The next day, he started slowly unearthing his car. Just enough that it was visible and clear, but not yet easily driveable. The next day, he cleared it some more, plus he started clearing away the plowed mounds of snow directly in front of his house. The next day, he cleared some more of the snow on the road in front of his house. Today, he has done the same. Slowly chipping away at what initially seemed like a huge, daunting task.
He knows what’s up.
This is how it’s going to be for the rest of us, too. If we want the snow to be cleared, especially in our own neighborhoods, we have to work slowly and methodically to dig out. Just a little bit every day. The county and state really need to do this, too, but that’s a whole other blog.
If we want to emerge from this snow or our samscaras, it’s not going to happen by chance overnight or even just because the sun is shining. We need to create the circumstances to dig ourselves out.