I’ve been thinking lately of space— not so much outer space as inner space, the kind of space that is just as important as anything you could fill it with.
As a society, we speak often of fulfillment, of success, of achieving and even of creating. But what of the blank page? The empty canvas? The adventure that is to begin?
But then again, these questions of space are really questions of circularity. How could we ever fulfill without first clearing the space with which to create? And so the questions of beginnings are really the questions of endings, in the same way that we celebrate the last moments of the old year as the first moments of the new.
2018. A year of beginnings that became endings that cleared way for more beginnings.
January 2018, and I turned 30 years old in Los Angeles, the city of my birth, surrounded by the very people that had known me for the entirety of my life. I rented a small house on Venice Beach and walked down to the water every day, thinking, I could do this, I could live here. (It helped that I flew out of DC the morning of a blizzard and landed in the blue skied 75 degree weather that LA knows as winter.)
I flew back to DC (still cold) then out to Durham the following month, visiting Duke for the first time since graduating 8 years earlier. 8 years! Nothing had changed and everything was different, all at the same time. My favorite professors were teaching— I dropped in on classes and office hours and spent hours every day in the gardens, where I met beautiful people and wandered among the tulips and practiced yoga on a bridge over a happy little creek. I remembered that I used to be a scientist before I was ever an artist.
When I came back to DC, it was March, my ex was running for mayor, and I fell very quickly in love with a banker about to move to Manhattan. It wasn’t LA, but it wasn’t DC either, and my mother was delighted with the prospect of impromptu meet ups at the Met. Sure, I agreed with the banker, let’s go, let’s move in together and live in a pretty little East Village walk up and fill it with palm trees and floor cushions and lots and lots of love.
It never occurred to me that I would be the one calling my mother for impromptu visits to our home in Long Island, that my childhood bedroom would become just as much home as the pretty little East Village walk up, where one must walk down five flights of stairs with twelve quarters in order to do one load of laundry. (Forgetting a quarter will cost you ten flights of stairs: five up to get the quarter, five down to the laundry.)
I came to Manhattan in April. From May through September, I would take the LIRR home twice a month for an escape from the pressure cooker of the city, and the suffocation of living with a man who I loved best when he was at some distance from me. Laundry was easier in Long Island too— just one flight of stairs, no quarters necessary.
What I realized during all these seismic shifts in my personal life was how much I really love to teach. When I left DC, I left my clients and my work and came to New York with nothing but the dream to start all over again. So what I began with was space. In those days, the first in many many years that I was not teaching regularly, I felt a sense of true emptiness, a question of purpose: who was I without my work?
Which is not to say that I was not working. I was working harder than ever, learning to share a home with someone for the first time after five years of living (blissfully) alone. I was learning what it was to be a good daughter, at arm’s length from my parents for the first time ever. I was learning that I need to carefully consider every outfit that I wore onto the streets of Manhattan, lest I walk into a vintage clothing store and be immediately and disdainfully directed to the sales rack (yes, that happened) (yes I was mortified) (yes I have rehauled my entire wardrobe in the past six months).
In that space, I found that I was lost. I came to New York entirely confident in my understanding of yoga and what made me a stellar teacher. Two months of living in New York and I was writing to myself day after day: what is yoga? What do I have to give?
But just as space invites creation, questions invite answers, and being lost invites finding oneself anew.
Today, I am living solo and teaching every day, with the Shala, an Ashtanga studio that has been cultivating a most beautiful community here in the village for the past 14 years, and am also teaching with Equinox, where I have rediscovered my love for fitness, stylish workout outfits, and steam rooms. I am supremely happy to teach each and every class. And no matter where I am, I am simultaneously humbled and inspired by the people I am meeting on and off the mat. The yogis of New York City are as strong as they are open, as dedicated as they are fun loving, and most miraculously of all, they tolerate my love for opening class with Prince or Jimi Hendrix.
And for the first time in my life, I feel well within the range of normal. No one bats an eye at a neuroscientist turned yogi. There is so much more to attend to in this city, like the occasional teal blue night sky, or Santa Con. (To be honest, I’m not sure which was the weirder event.)
I should mention that my two main concerns are that I am too excited to sleep much at nights, and that my distance vision is noticeably faltering. The former because there is so much to do in this city, and the latter because everything that you need to see is directly in front of you. So as I look forward into 2019, my vision has a lovely old-Hollywood blur to it, the way these winter fogs weave over the East River and through the skyline.
All I see are the invitations to love the space between what has already ended, and what is yet to begin.
Wishing you a beautiful year of creativity, clear vision, and cultivation of inner space: here’s to a 2019 already worth celebrating.