My 88-year old neighbor was walking by as I swept the front porch, making small talk with me about the neighborhood, her recent sciatica and aging. She doesn’t look 88. Perhaps 78. But not 88. I made some comment about her youthful vigor, how great it was that she exercised everyday, and as she shuffled away, she responded, “That’s the secret, I guess. You just keep moving.”
I put my ear buds back in, a clear sign of my own age, that even menial yard work can’t be done in silence, and finished sweeping up the cobwebs and dust. I placed the trash can back in its usual spot, hung the broom and rake, took one last glance at our fledgling yard, and felt accomplished. Yard work done before the sun broke the morning marine layer, which always left me parched and irritable, frustrated at myself for not starting the project earlier. Not moving sooner.
I began my more typical morning routine of rinsing the French press, boiling water, watering the plants and scurrying around the house to tidy up the leftovers of life from the day before, when my neighbor’s words came rushing back: You just keep moving. You just keep moving. You just keep moving. You just keep moving.
I am a yoga teacher. Of course, movement is a cornerstone of my life. But, why? Why do we wake up every morning and have this urge to move? And not just move physically, but to feel like we’re on some sort of trajectory towards something higher, or bigger, or more robust?
This question started to take over. For better, or worse, humans crave movement. Being still is like being dead. Only dead people really stop moving. We move to remember that we are alive.
Now, this may not seem like some really monumental thing, but, it is for me. I paused and realized how many times I have allowed myself to just stop, and not stop moving my body, because that’s never been where I got stuck, but stopped moving into the unknown.
There was the time I quit college. The time track and field practice felt too hard. The time I didn’t accept my invitation to a really great college, in a different town than my boyfriend (whom I broke up with shortly after). There was the time I didn’t finish school after I had my daughter. The time we chose not to have any more kids (then later decided we did, but now we can’t). The many times I avoided doing something because it felt too scary. The times I didn’t get in the ocean with my daughter because being seen in a bathing suit seemed like death. The times I quit good opportunities because I was overwhelmed. The times I haven’t called or texted someone because I thought I’d annoy them. Over and over again, I’ve chosen stagnation.
Sometimes, I think that this feeling of stagnation was WHY I chose yoga as a career. At least something in me was moving. I was unable to really identify why I had this feeling of being stuck, so I tried to literally move it out of my body. What I’m learning, though, is that physical movement is not a substitute for being courageous. Stepping into the same yoga studio for a decade is not the same as stepping onto a college campus after a decade break from it. Both require my legs to walk into them, but only one, at this time, requires me to move through the fear of the unknown.
Over the last 10 years, a nagging sense of the inevitable fact that I AM ALIVE has developed (as if I’d temporarily forgotten it). A conflict arose: I knew that I was alive, but so much of me was acting is if I were dying. I’d see other people that were Alive. I’d have brief moments of feeling what Alive was like. But, it felt so scary to venture out into the unknown of what an Alive life actually could be.
We move to remember that we are alive.
To move at all, physically, emotionally, spiritually, I need to be willing to try on the unknown. No matter how much I think my routine is set, the moment I wake up and choose to step down off my bed, I’m in unknown territory. Each step I walk is a sign my body is still able. Each choice I make to go somewhere new, or try something new, is a sign that my mind is still eager. Each prayer that I say, and knee that I bow, is a sign that my soul is still yearning. When I stop those things, I start to feel dead.
Just. Keep. Moving. Moving through sadness, forgiveness, anger, fear, child-rearing, marriage, friendship, house woes, illness, job promotions and loss, aging, death, going back to school, recreation, cleaning, divorce, breakups, breakdowns, breaking hearts. And not in a distracted way, like I’m trying to run from these things, but in a conscious way, feeling each thing as it comes.
For so long, stillness has meant safety for me. If things were the same, it felt manageable and OK. I believe we need these seasons of consistency, but, it’s easy to get attached to them. The feeling of safety is a comfortable one, but not always the one we need. I know it’s not the one I need right now.
Nope. What I need right now is to feel the rush of angst and excitement that comes with new opportunities. I need to feel the challenge of an uncharted path and embrace the questions instead of always having the answers. I need to increase the pace of my days to feel the beat of my heart. I need to risk things that I’ve held as safety nets below me, and trust that others will embrace me. I need to dream and expand and step out of boundaries that either I’ve set, or others have set for me. How many glorious, life-giving things must live outside the walls of my heart’s citadel!
But, I can’t see any of it, feel any of it or experience any of it unless I move.
“Just keep moving,” she said. And I think she was exactly right.