All the wrong shoes. My life as an alien.

Posted by on Dec 4, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a student who had signed up for my February retreat in Costa Rica.  She was concerned about what the daily schedule would be like.  I told her that we would be starting each day in silence, with meditation and a yoga class before breakfast.  Her eyes widened.  They might have welled up a little.  “I am SO not a morning person!” she said.  I could feel her anxiety ratcheting up so I tried to be reassuring.  I told her that she would be fine once she got into the rhythm of it, the change might be interesting, it wouldn’t be crazy early and, above all, it was valuable to get out of one’s comfort zone once in a while.  She looked at me for a minute with her serious, intelligent eyes and said, “Oh well, you know, I LIVE outside my comfort zone.”

My students, my teachers.

Her words brought up memories from more than 30 years ago when, as a ninth-grader, due to a variety of difficult family circumstances I had been shipped off to a well-known boarding school.  My parents probably had the best intentions and found someplace with an educationally impressive pedigree.  What they didn’t realize was that their dark, curly-haired, hippy, Jewish teenager would be an alien there.  Surrounded by blonde, lacrosse-playing, old-money amazons in “Top-siders,” I felt unbearably self-conscious and inadequate, and soon found myself friendless and failing out.  There had been some code I had been unable to break, some wall that they, or I, could not breach.

But this same feeling can arise in circumstances that outwardly seem much more conducive to comfort and well-being.  A couple of years ago, I was in a Restorative Yoga class, the kind in which soothing music plays and you are given a ton of bolsters and blankets and set up in a variety of “comfortable,” “healing” postures, and then left for several minutes for the goodness to unfold.   I secretly can’t stand these classes.  But this one was part of an Advanced Teacher Training and I was determined to “Restore.”  As I listened to the instructions in one particular pose, and tried to set up my props as described, and organize my body within them as suggested, I just could not get comfortable.  I felt a rising level of irritation and frustration reaching a crescendo and soon was quietly sobbing my heart out.  I occasionally opened one eye to see all my dear fellow Teacher Trainees in the dim light around me, smiling serenely into their bolsters.  In that one moment, at the height of my sobbing, I remember feeling (in an extremely dramatic way) that I had actually never been truly comfortable in my life…ever.

A bit of an exaggeration, for sure, but nevertheless real in that moment.  So, as I listened to my student, I felt my heart open with compassion. What does it mean that so many of us seem to be living in a place that feels outside our comfort zones… perhaps it shows up in our relationships with our bodies, our families, maybe even in the communities we live.  This feels like an important topic in light of the institutional racism that we have seen so blatantly of late, in Ferguson and Staten Island — the reality that many young black men can not possibly feel at ease in a society in which their very appearance may be sufficient to deny them access to their civil rights.

Race, class, faith, our bodies.  It all seems to come down to judgment.  Judgments against ourselves, judgments against those different from us.  Perhaps we don’t need to step out of our comfort zones so much as make that zone a little bigger, a lot more forgiving.  This is serious and life-long work.  Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 cuckoo2

5 Comments

  1. great post Susan!

  2. What a great series of connections — past to present, personal to political and with such bracing honesty. Thanks so much for this, Susan.

    • I am so glad you liked this. It means so much to me!!

  3. Dear Susan,

    Your experience at boarding school sounds like my freshman year at Harvard.

    I spend my life trying to stay in my comfort zone so your suggestion to try to expand it resonates.

    On a different note, I hope you will be in Manhattan soon and we can have coffee or at least say hello.

    Love, Diana

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