As many of you know, I got married and moved to Zürich, Switzerland about two months ago. I was really ready for a change after being in New York for ten years. Don't get me wrong, I love New York (people look at you like you're crazy when you tell them you are leaving or have left the Big Apple - and not just people from NYC) but I also was in search of a slower pace and a life that easily included the natural world on the daily. I fell in love with Europe on my first trip here back in 2010, and I was really excited to nestle in with my husband in a new home that echoes such beauty and antiquity.
Moving across the ocean was no easy feat (let alone five days after a wedding), and I do not necessarily recommend it! With the help of our friends and from the strength of our own excitement, we pulled it off. As I look back, the hardest part of the actual move was watching our cats pull away in a van on their own journey to the airport. I was beside myself with worry, but in the end they showed up to our new apartment in Zürich in one piece; a bit frazzled and wide-eyed, but virtually unaffected.
I, myself, arrived with my own eyes and heart wide open. I was ready for the peace and quiet, for the more temperate rainier climate (at least I told myself I was), for the reserved culture and for the businesses that all close at 6 pm. No 24 hour bodegas. No preaching men on the public transit telling us how to get to Lesbian Square. No white tile on the walls of every trendy restaurant. I had been preparing for months and I felt ready. Or so I told myself.
But when are we ever ready for the unknown? How can we be "ready" when we have no idea what is coming? This is a lesson that infuses our existence, yet it is a rare moment when we are able to truly listen to the teaching.
I have to admit, it has been hard; incredibly hard. And certainly not because of anyone not trying. My husband, Matthias, has been amazing in helping me integrate here. So many of the people I have met in Zurich have been kind and open and have reached out for a meeting or to see how I am doing. Many of my friends and family, who are busy with their lives in Brooklyn, NY or Columbus, OH or Greenville, SC have gone out of their way to stay connected, to share stories or pictures or a good laugh. But in the end the things that are the hardest are those I never could have prepared for and no one could have given me an extra pointer or piece of advice to help.
I could give you a thousand reasons why it is has been so challenging, but in the end it doesn't matter what those reasons are. What matters is how I choose to face the harder aspects. In truth, challenges are just reality rubbing up against our expectations and comfort zones, and we can react in a myriad of ways. There are three major categories under which our reactions fall, in Buddhist thought we call these Dvesa, Raga and Avidya (aggression, attachment and misperception or ignorance). You may also be familiar with these words from the Yoga Sutras. Dvesa is to negate, to push back on and resist our experiences. We place the blame for our very own reactions on the weather, the woman on the bus, or the phone company and shut ourselves down with aggression and anger. Raga has a quality of clinging desperately. We hold onto memories, to "the way things were", to our own ideals and opinions. We shut ourselves down in fear of change or feelings of inadequacy and we protect what is "ours" fiercely. The final way we react, avidya is by building a wall. We shut down by numbing out and not allowing anyone or anything to penetrate our experience. In a way we are safe, but we are also blind. We choose ignorance over life.
Moment to moment this new experience of feeling utterly foreign in my new home has given me a gift. I see each day as a choice. I can wake up feeling afraid to communicate with people in a language I am still learning, or I can screw up my der die and das and move on. I can fret over restarting my career or I can be appreciative of the work I am so lucky to have and work ever harder to give each student I encounter an experience that echoes my intentions as a teacher. We have these choices all the time, but I have been lucky in a way to have each choice I make underlined with a new vibrancy because nothing is familiar or safe or comfortable. Moving to a new country has made this process more potent and present, and believe me when I say I have certainly opted for raga, avidya and dvesa at times. It takes a lot of effort to move out from behind a wall, but I also can say that it feels a lot better to take off the blinders.
Vinyasa is often described as that which we choose to place with intention, or to place in a special way. An intention implies that a choice is made before an action is taken. It also implies that this choice was made as a compass of navigation through the weather of experience. Intention sometimes carries the weight of a sense of clinging with it, so I also love the word aspiration, but you could use either. Aspiration gives us a direction but it also gives us room to relax.
I have made my aspiration this and offer for you to see if it might resonate:
Let life unfold as a vinyasa, where I act again and again with choices that embrace openness. And as challenges arise and move up against my comfortable edges, let those edges be softened. Let my softer edges give me the capacity to take in a greater horizon of experience and in turn let me become ever softer and more permeable.
There are so many things in our world to rage about. There are so many things that can shut us down because they are frightening or incredibly sad. Our individual lives give us the opportunity to work with anger and fear and grief on a personal scale so that we can show up for ourselves and our loved ones, but also so we can show up for our world in a way that is meaningful. Our choices can reflect one of the three ways we shut down that I mention above, or they can reflect an open heart, a curious mind and willingness to relax a bit. When things get uncomfortable or foreign, the notion is that we have prepared for this by the very practice of relaxing with our experience over and over again.
And when we find ourselves shut down, we can always open the windows in the walls of our soft heart and let the outside in.