15 minutes as a corpse

It’s only 1 pm and already the day has been long and full. I can feel myself bracing against it, a response that is, at once, both offensive and defensive—meant to conquer and to protect.

My instinct is to keep pushing against and through the day, but instead I take a cue from my dog. Locating the patch of sun on the living room rug, I lie down flat on my back, in what is known in yoga as shavasana, the corpse pose.

Not only is the term shavasana somewhat new to me, as I’ve just recently committed myself to a yoga practice after a few years of only taking a class here and there, but the entire concept is foreign. Being a good corpse can be tricky for the living—especially, it seems, for me. The idea of being awake but not doing anything, other than holding an awareness of the rise and fall of my abdomen with each breath, does not come naturally.

But I try, nonetheless. The trick is to try without trying too hard, which has a way of defeating the purpose. All I can say is thank goodness for eye pillows. Without one, my eyes would never close, or even cease their darting behind my closed lids. If there was such a thing as a body-sized eye pillow, I would gladly let its gentle weight hold me down.

sunonrugInstead, I wiggle a bit, to introduce my body to the rug—to the idea that, for now, it isn’t responsible for holding me upright.

Next, I release my tongue from the roof of my mouth, where it always seems poised, ready for the next word.

I let my hands grow heavy and limp, imagining them putting roots into the floor rather than tapping over the keyboard, matching a pile of clean socks, or comforting a child.

I notice that my shoulders, always curving into the tension of my work and life, are the last part of me to give in to this crazy thing I’m doing here in the middle of my work day: lying in a patch of sun on the rug, like my dog. I mentally coax each shoulder down toward the rug below, then down and back even further. They have so far to go, so much to relearn.

Finally, I am aware only (mostly) of the sun warming my chest as it rises and falls.

*   *   *   *   *

I am a doer. That sounds like a brag—like I’m touting a true American character asset. In many ways, it is an asset. Being a doer is certainly not something you’d hide in a job interview.

But as one who is always compelled to do the doing, I’m not so sure.

“I’m sensing a very deep-seeded, emotional holding pattern,” my massage therapist said last week, after several sessions of intense work meant to release the muscle mass reaching across my shoulders and up my neck. The massage work, he told me, has accomplished what it should in terms of releasing the individual muscles, but something in my being is refusing to let go.

I left his office feeling discouraged that my massage therapist couldn’t just do something to make me better, but also recognizing the irony of that. I wanted him to do so that I could keep doing—an unsustainable cycle of short-term fixes.

*   *   *   *   *

Doing is satisfying. It makes me feel useful and necessary.

Doing enables me, at the end of the day, to look back at the previous 12-or-so hours and quantify their worth. It makes me feel like I’ve somehow earned that glass of wine with dinner, a TV show before bed, and a good night’s sleep. I need it, after all—tomorrow brings another day of doing.

There is, of course, a cultural construct built around the idea of being busy and productive, but I can mostly let go of that. Busyness isn’t something I feel proud of, a “humble brag” I would share on Facebook. For me, it’s the energy I get from doing that I’m addicted to. I love generating ideas, collaborating with others, and making good things happen. I love seeing where there are holes in the world around me and then figuring out how to fill them, so that places and communities and lives are better.

Being engaged through doing also gives me a satisfying sense ownership, whether in my writing business, my church, or my daughters’ school. And yes, I’m sure there’s a bit of a control-freak factor mixed in there, and probably some fear of failure (who am I kidding?). There’s a good chance that’s part of what my massage therapist was sensing in my body.

Either way, it’s no joke. I need to do something about it. (Ha! There it is again. Do. I can’t help myself.) Although in truth, I’m beginning to realize there’s not much I can do about this, other than learn to be. Earlier this year, as many bloggers I know were choosing their #oneword for 2015, I began to see the name of this very blog, You Are Here, in a new way: not just as a way to think about place, but as a way to think about being—being present where I am.

Maybe my word for 2015 should simply be “Here.” I am here. In this place. In this moment. In this body. I am here whether I’m doing something or, as our culture likes to call it, doing “nothing.”

*   *   *   *   *

In the case of lying corpse-like on my living room floor in the middle of the work day, the “doer me” would love to say I’m doing shavasana. But I’m learning to shift how I think. For now, I’m not doing, I’m simply being.

Gradually, I feel the sun creeping onto my right shoulder, rewarding it for accomplishing its most difficult task: letting go. Turning my face toward the sun, I let the eye pillow slide to the floor, keeping my eyes closed so they can begin adjusting to the light through my lids.

When I finally open my eyes, they take in the slant of sun through the living room window—the sun I have felt and can now see. My eyes observe how the dust in the air and the silver thread of a spider’s web connected to the window’s sill give the sun more dimension. I take one more deep breath before pushing myself up off the rug, and I think, No, I don’t need to dust. Maybe eventually, but for now I will just notice.

10 Thoughts.

  1. Kristin,
    This is so well-written! So many quotable quotes that truly, vividly express what it means to be held captive by all these various addictive, essentially positive, behaviors that end up ruling us. Your insights are potentially very helpful to anyone, like me, who is struggling with habitual stress, and body rebellion, always motivated to try to fix the world and make everyone happy! Thank you!

    • You’re absolutely right—we are “held captive” by these behaviors, and they are essentially positive, until they end up ruling our lives! I think that’s what’s so tricky for me (and probably for you): So many of the things that speed up the pace of my life and fill my hours are things that are meaningful and important. It can be hard to figure out WHAT to let go of. However we do it, I’m finally realizing how important it is. Our emotional state of being has far more power over our physical selves than we tend to acknowledge.

  2. Love this, Kristin. I’m fairly new to yoga too, and shavasana can be the hard part – because I’m “not doing anything.” But it – and the whole practice – are so important. I always feel clearer and lighter afterward.

    • Katie, I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one who struggles with this practice of “not doing!” It’s our fast-paced, information-loaded culture, of course, that makes shavasana more difficult—AND that much more important.

  3. I love how you put this, Sarah: “…[yoga] does for me what I cannot for me: be!” Yes! Somehow it manages to pull us out of ourselves—to set aside the parts of us that can’t stop doing, even just for a moment.

  4. Amen! Amen! Amen!

    How do we undo the worker bee mentality? I struggle, too! What is “my deep seated emotional holding pattern?” I don’t know! I run away from it too much with things to do.

    And yoga! I love its presence of mind and body and even soul. It helps me enter into the peace of not doing, of stillness and stretch and self, and at the same time, it does for me what I cannot for me: be!

    Great post!

  5. Kristin, this is a fabulous piece. It brought tears to my eyes. I continue to learn “to be”–where I am now. It is hard, even under circumstances which SHOULD make me slow down. I need to embrace the warmth of the sun and “be.”
    Thank you for this.

    • Thank you, Lisa. It was interesting—as I was writing, I noticed myself trying to rush through the description of what it’s like for me to do shavasana. Finally, I had to force myself to slow down my thoughts, slow down my ideas, and let the writing itself mirror the practice. It’s SO hard for me!

  6. Beautiful. I’m not always a doer, but I don’t think I take time for intentional rest either. I fill it with SOMETHING. This is a good reminder to be present in our down time.

    • Me too, Alise! I like to “relax” with knitting (as I know you do too), which IS relaxing in a way. But when you think about it, your hands are always moving and there’s a very measurable feeling of progress and accomplishment as you knit. (And when there isn’t progress—when you’re tearing out mistakes rather than creating new stitches, it can be super frustrating!)

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