Begin Within by Ginny Hamilton
The weekend after my only child turned one, I climbed into the passenger seat of a friend’s car and headed west.
This isn’t a story of abandonment – I was gone less than forty-eight hours as planned – it just felt like abandonment at the time. Home with him for that year, I’d done pretty well with taking breaks: a weekly sitter, Saturday yoga classes, and even the occasional date night. But a whole weekend? The idea loomed large, guilt mixed with anticipation.
My hubby had pushed. “When are you getting away by yourself? It’s been more than a year,” he added, referring to my personal practice of an annual solo retreat. Since leaving my first marriage (here’s that abandonment guilt again), I had kept the commitment to take a retreat every year. To retreat. My job at the time sent me traveling once or twice a year, and I’d tack on a few vacation days to hike by myself in a national park or find a yoga center within a half day’s drive.
During one such retreat, I realized I didn’t have to know what I was doing next to know I had to stop what I was doing. So I left my burn out job leading a mission-based organization I’d helped create more than a decade earlier. (Insert abandonment guilt refrain.) The week after I gave my board six months’ notice, I found out I was pregnant.
Doing Next turned out to be riding the hormonal roller coaster of sleepless nights and intense infant nursing. Policy meetings gave way to regular feedings. Sleep schedules replaced grant schedules. I let go of expectations and sleepwalked through the hazy days of new motherhood. Patterns began to emerge, none unique to this territory of identity, gender, self-care, introversion and isolation. Somewhere in the depth of that New England winter, my hubby began prodding me to get away.
Three hours west from home, there’s a prominent yoga retreat center. I browsed their online catalog and found a favorite teacher coming the weekend after my son turned one. Realizing solo didn’t feel so important, I called a friend who likes this teacher, too. We booked a shared room and she offered to drive.
On the low stage at the front of a large hall sat a substantial man with long, wavy silver hair. Every bit the hippy he looks, he’s been teaching yoga for decades. He opened the workshop this way,
“I’m gonna tell you the secret – it’s all about meditation.”
My new mama body longed for movement. And there was a bit of physical yoga practice. But mostly it was a weekend to sit. Think less. Listen more. And learn to sit, think less and listen more on one’s own.
During our last session Sunday morning, his talk was about relaxing in the midst of life so you can be the presence of peace. Two-thirds of the way back, in the center of the room, I raised my hand.
“I’ve been trying to simplify and listen and remove the things in my life that aren’t working. And I do feel happier as a result. But I also feel a whole lotta guilt. Self-care feels selfish. What do I do with that?” I asked.
“Get over it” he replied, his voice matter of fact.
The room erupted in laughter.
I tried to smile, embarrassed to feel tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. Begging them not to fall.
He held my gaze, smiling with his whole self. And as the titters died down, kindly he explained that the benefit will spread. Becoming peaceful within ourselves can only improve the lives of those around us, our community, our global family. But especially the lives of those we love most.
“When you become centered, balanced, you stop hassling yourself. What a relief!”
Kindness begins at home. Radical kindness begins within.
Ginny Hamilton is a yoga instructor, blogger, Reiki practitioner, gardener, activist, and middle-aged Mama. She has put down roots in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts with her spouse and young son. She teaches self-care through yoga and body work, and hopefully by example. Learn more at ginnyhamiltonyoga.com