When I was a kid in school, I was in special classes for “gifted” kids. I always have hated that term. Aren’t we all gifted? Anyway, in these courses, I was given the opportunity to do incredible things. I wrote two “books” before I was in Jr High School, attended court cases, took trips to botanical gardens, got out of regular classes to do hands on learning, and was able to meet some wonderful professionals. When I was in 7th grade, I had an experienced that changed my life. At the time, I had no idea how powerful it would be (who knows these things when they are 13?) but I have never forgotten it. One spring Saturday, my “gifted” group and the similar groups from other schools piled into the auditorium and listened to an author speak about the writing process. He spoke at length and answered questions and, honestly, I don’t remember very much except the one thing that has guided my life: “You must conquer the power of white.”
Before you go getting all steamed in your bloomers, this has nothing to do with race or color or anything other than writing. You have to remember, I’m older than dirt. When this event happened, people didn’t write on computers. Most folks wrote on a word processor or even, gasp, on paper with a pencil or pen! What the author was talking about was the terror, the complete and total block that comes when you sit down in front of a white sheet of paper and suddenly cannot think of a single word to write. The whiteness, the purity, the blank sheet is too overwhelming and everything that you might think about writing starts to seem wildly inane and insignificant, so you sit there drooling on yourself like an idiot and get nothing done. The white has won.
His suggestion? Get the paper dirty. Scribble on it. Spill something on it. Smudge it. Do anything – ANYTHING – to destroy the power of white. When it’s not so blank, things start to happen. It’s the same as waking up in the morning to a blanket of pure white thick fresh fallen snow. You want to go out and play in it (okay, I never do, but I hear that most people want to,) and yet you don’t want to ruin the perfectness of it. A perfectly frosted cake. A pristinely made bed. A perfectly wonderful life, a perfectly profound grief. They all can become all you see and the fear of changing it, even a tiny bit, is horrifying. Adding humanity to it, adding life to it, adding (or subtracting) ANYTHING to it risks fucking it up irreparably.
It’s been quite awhile since I have written and I couldn’t find out why I was struggling to get words onto the page. I stated something along those lines on my FB status and got some insightful responses. The one that struck me most profoundly, however, came in the form of a private message from a friend who suggested that maybe I am not sure what to write about now, how much of my own life to include in the story, is because I have been so very bold and open with my grief and my process and, now that it is taking on a different color, I’m feeling the need to protect it. My life now has it’s own power of white.
Last time I wrote, I mentioned that I am now in a relationship with a wonderful man. The feedback from that has been interesting, to say the least. Most people who say anything at all to me about it are INCREDIBLY supportive and excited. Many of my friends and family members have met him and it’s clear to them that this is a good thing. It’s very clear to us that this is a good thing. That said, there are several people out there (quite likely more than I know,) who are not so thrilled with this turn of events, who feel that it is disrespectful of Brian or of our marriage or whatever. I realize that, for a long time, I was more terrified of what other people would say or think than how I would feel. That, my dears, is utter bullshit. Their feelings are their story. My feelings are mine. I’m the one who gets to scribble on my page so I can overcome the fear of writing a new story. I took a breath, took a chance, and scribbled like mad and, guess what? My story has a new plot, a wonderful, exciting, sincere, honest, compassionate plot that doesn’t dismiss my story with Brian, but has added onto it. My story is still being written. Had I not taken the chance, had I not scribbled, I’d still be dying daily while sitting on my couch. I did that for months and months and months. Brian wouldn’t have wanted that. My kids didn’t want that. *I* didn’t want that, but it was happening. I messed up that perfectly blank sheet of grief and somehow, a story of life started to unfold. I stopped dying on the couch and started, slowly, to live again.
I have been picking up additional yoga classes as the other teachers at Yoga Sol are vacationing. Getting back into a more active teaching role has helped me scribble on my yoga page as well. After Brian died, everything I did was colored by my loss. It is absolutely impossible to avoid that. Fortunately, it worked well for me and it made my teaching more … profound? Intense? Real? I don’t know what to call it, but for a long time it was even more of an extension of me as it has always been. As I began to heal (and I’ll be healing for the rest of my life,) however, it started to feel like I was stuck. Again, the power of white was blocking me. I was too comfortable with the blanket of grief teaching and it became all I could see, even though it didn’t fit anymore. One day, I did something I hadn’t done since Brian died: I ended the class with the singing bowl and a chant. I scribbled on my class and, oh how the story started to pour out! I have been doing yoga for more than half of my life and I have taken just about every kind of class you can imagine, but it was suddenly like I was a beginner again. Beginner’s mind, yo. Everything was new and wonderful and exciting and vibrant. The grief hadn’t gone away, but suddenly there was the opportunity for much more than grief! I think the same thing applies to all yoga students. It might not be grief they are experiencing, it might just be complacency, or even incredible bliss, but if nothing ever changes, nothing ever changes. I have had the pleasure of having new students in my class recently. Yesterday, a lovely yogini arrived to my Flying Friday class and confessed that she had attempted to come the week prior, but got scared before she walked in and left without taking the class. White white white white white. Yesterday, she stayed, she took the class, scribbled al over her mat, and started to bloom into a million colors.
We can get blinded and paralyzed by extreme joy, extreme grief, extreme pain, extreme ambivalence. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks – it’s their story they are writing, not yours. Only you can write your story, but you have to write it. You have to take a chance, mess up the page, conquer the power of white, and get it out there. You never know how wonderful it will be unless you start letting it pour out onto your own page. Let it have colors. Let it have adventure. Let it have flavor and texture. Let it have music (I’m fond of the mandolin.) Let it be bold or timid, but let it be. Don’t hide behind the power of white, get out there and start scribbling and be amazed at your own brilliance!