Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect

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I’ve moved a lot. In fact, I’ve moved my possessions into storage and lived out of a bag for the summer all but one of the last 17 years. I’ve spent two full academic school years living out of a backpack, traveling through various countries, and I’ve spent over 400 days in the backcountry, setting up a new camp each day somewhere out in the mountains.

I am great at putting together boxes, packing them efficiently, and tetris-ing them into storage containers and U-hauls. I am also great at unpacking. I moved into my latest new apartment a week ago. Every box was unpacked within two days and every picture was hung on the wall within four. I know how to travel light, how to do laundry in the sink or the river, how to settle in, and how to pick up and go.

This willingness to undergo the hassles of constantly moving has afforded me incredible opportunities. Each place I’ve gone I’ve met wonderful people who have changed my life for the better. I’ve gotten to see landscapes so beautiful they make you cry. I’ve gotten to stretch and grow and push my own limits wider and wider.

And still, at the most fundamental level, I am terrible at transitions. The quick progress I can make in the physical world is not mirrored in my emotional world. I lived in my tent for 60 days this summer—one month at a yoga ashram, another month in the backcountry of Wyoming. When I packed up my apartment in May to head out west for the summer, my main emotion was one of longing to stay put. To stay in my cute apartment, with my incredible neighbor downstairs, and other dear friends throughout the city, and my lovely library down the street where my dog and I volunteered each week. But plans made in the dark days of February had to be kept, and so I went. And of course, once I was out there, living in my tent, first at the ashram and then in the mountains, I loved it.

I actually can’t imagine having spent my summer any other way. What I love most about how I spent my summer is that I was surrounded by other people who to greater or lesser degrees live on the fringe—with priorities and lifestyles that don’t reflect the expected norm. My life felt full and content out in the mountains. The life tick boxes I have yet to tick felt less pressing and less important.

This is not to say I wanted to stay out there in the mountains forever. I was more than ready on the final morning of my backpacking trip to come in and have a shower and reunite with my dog and with the many good people in my life who do not live in the fringe, but who are successful and content right in the center of things.

But now here I am back in an apartment, plugged into the world at large, physically settled in, and emotionally a wreck. The pieces missing in my life suddenly feel like gaping wounds—the many good things present in my life feel like afterthoughts. The perspective offered by the mountains feels like it was ground to dust immediately by the buzz and hum of the city. There is so much good in my world right now, and yet happiness feels currently inaccessible.

The Yoga Sutras, which I spent so much time studying this summer, teach that suffering comes from attaching to our thoughts and ideas. Swami Vishnu-Devananda writes in his commentary on the sutras, “It is the mind, and nothing else, that must be corralled and controlled in order to achieve the true peace of Union (or Yoga).” It is categorically easier to corral and control your mind in an ashram or out in the mountains—less external stimulation begets less internal stirring. But as much as I love that world I was living in this summer, I want to be content in this world where I am living now. But I think that will take time. It always takes time.

No matter how many transitions I’ve done, the culture shock, the change, the shifting—it all takes time to sink in. And I’m not a very patient person. I want it to all be okay now. I want to remember why I didn’t want to leave this city back in May. I want to feel at home. But for now, I’m adrift, mostly drowning in my own thoughts, waiting for this storm to pass.