By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor
Do you ever feel out of place in a place you’re compelled to be? Maybe you’re the sole marketer on a virtual team of PMs and developers. Maybe you’re the only woman amongst a cohort of men. Maybe you’re the sole introvert in a group of garrulous extroverts. Your first inclination may be to extract yourself from the discomfort, to just get out, no matter the consequences.
But when fleeing is not an option, how do we endure with our composure intact? How do we make the best of an uncomfortable situation? How do we rise to an occasion that at the outset looks and feels like nowhere we want to be and nothing we want to experience?
I recently had this experience during a weekend yoga retreat in the mountains, two hours from my home. Initially I planned to attend with a friend, with the intention of getting away from our daily lives for a few days of yoga and fresh mountain air. When my friend’s plans changed and she wasn’t able to go, I decided to go alone. It would still be awesome, I thought. After all, I did a week-long yoga conference 1,300 miles from home a few years back that was incredibly fulfilling.
But this time, the gates around my heart started rising the minute I walked into our mountain lodge. I was the oldest among this group of 20- and 30-somethings. While I’ve practiced yoga for years and felt confident in my strength, this appeared to be a group of expert yogis, most of them teachers, whose spirituality was far deeper than mine. They arrived in small groups, already acquaintances, if not best friends. And did I mention I was the oldest? Suddenly I felt an urgent need to color my hair and Botox my body.
But I was here. For three nights. In the mountains. Without a car and too far for my husband to come rescue me. That first night, as I lay in my creaky cot, in a large den I shared with four others, I felt terrifyingly out of place, frustrated that I’d not more carefully considered canceling, praying I’d wake up in my own bed, all of this a hilarious dream.
I woke up in that same creaky cot. Resigned, I pulled on my yoga clothes for the morning’s practice. Dear God, please no handstands or chanting. Please let there be English along with Sanskrit cues. Please don’t let me fall on my face during crow pose.
Yoga has an inexplicable way of transforming one’s mindset, of paring open a closed heart, of releasing fear, uncertainty, despair, judgement. That morning’s yoga practice was slow and gentle, offering abundant space for deep breathing and long stretching. Space, too, to consider my intention and the possibility that maybe I was there for a reason. Maybe if I paid attention these three days, I’d discover that reason, whatever it might be: A new friend? A new skill? Simply release from all my responsibilities back home? Could I even allow myself such a release?
From that morning practice, I carried with me throughout the weekend the intention to simply be open to that possibility I was indeed there for a reason. That an open and willing mindset was the only salve to those uncomfortable outsider feelings. That by clinging to despair – and fretting about my age – would only add to the misery, my own and everyone else’s.
And so I joined the group making malas. And laughed when, after two hours of laboriously tying knots and threading beads, I shredded my efforts, surrendering to the reason I buy my jewelry already made. I approached conversations with curiosity, looking for what I might learn from a younger generation, what experiences they’ve had that my own two kids will too soon have. Humbly, I learned that this generation is far wiser of the world than I was at their age.
One afternoon, while others tucked themselves under throws to nap, I pulled on my boots and set out for a walk. It was gently snowing, quietly lonely – and a little scary walking against traffic on a road where both shoulders were piled with snow. Yet it was exactly what I needed. Energizing and meditative, cold and sweaty, familiar and foreign, all at the same time. I felt safe, happy and for the first time all weekend, glad to be there.
Ultimately, my reason for being there was not dramatic or life changing, but rather simply to be reminded that with humor, curiosity and self-compassion, I can find ease in uncomfortable situations, I can connect with people outside my usual circle of friends, and I can accept experiences as truly meant to be.