Dear Clients and Friends,
Some of you know that I’m an avid reader. It’s an under appreciated hobby and one that suits my nearsightedness much better than ping pong. Mostly, these days I toggle between a variety of professional publications, the New York Times, and books on cats. I'm not as regularly reaching the literary heights of my youth, but still, reading requires focus, abstract thought, and reflection-- qualities that seem largely absent in modern life.
This weekend, cooling lemon water in hand, I was drawn toward a spiritual resource--my dusty Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao Te Ching and particularly this passage:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
But it is the center hole
That makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot
But it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
But it is the inner space
That makes it livable.
We work with being
But non-being is what we use.
Beautiful in its simplicity, it summed up for me a yearlong struggle that has hindered my process as a writer (of these newsletters), movement teacher, and healer. I reluctantly share my thoughts with you because the longer these issues stay in the shadows, the longer I prolong myths of healing that hinder maturity in the work.
In the broadest sense, my body has been pulled into the first major undertow of aging. I was joking with my mentor, Madeline Black, that things are breaking faster than I can fix them, but, really I was making light of an experience that is complicated and deserving of examination--an experience shared by so many of my colleagues behind closed doors because our healing model does not leave space for the changes and challenges of middle life.
I feel full of hubris as I admit to you that I completely assumed that the work I do on my own body, mind, and spirit would smoothly transit me through youth to wisdom without excessive glitches along the way. That’s what modern body practices promise--strength, coordination, freedom from pain--and my job as part of that movement has been to spread the word.
Then 2017 hit and I started to have personal challenges that have been disruptive to my life, health, work, sleep, etc. None of the issues are life threatening, but they have been quality of life threatening and have shaken my confidence in the work, especially as the world of wellness has been co-opted by the world of beauty, and our standards for what it means to be well are increasingly commodified.
As time marched forward, I felt embarrassed to go into sessions or classes where my performance didn't live up to the image of a professional PilatesYogaHealer. I’m not used to being the person in the room who isn’t strong, who can’t keep up, whose balance is shaky. Instructors noticed, too. I had one teacher point me out to her students saying, "It's good to have an example of how to do it wrong." Another who asked, "Do you ever have time to practice?" It was humiliating and a real lesson in the assumptions we make about performance.
So I did what a lot of us do--I doubled down on my behavior. I started taking classes, seeing professionals. I changed my diet, my workout, my priorities, all with the hopes that I would “get better.”
And then I didn’t. I am 11 months into a massive life overhaul with scant improvements to show for it.
I always wondered why Oedipus, when faced with the prophecy that he would marry his mother and murder his father, didn’t card all of his girlfriends. Doesn't that just seem logical and obvious? So why did I think that my body would be immune to the effects of this thing called aging? It doesn’t take the oracle at Delphi to recognize that we are renters here on planet Earth and none of us knows when the lease negotiations aren't going to be in our favor. I assumed with all my knowledge and dedication that I would be more like Jack LaLanne, preserving my strength and vitality into my 90s. But in reality, I’m Jennifer Sokolov--a woman with a complex history that has a lot of challenges to integrate.
And this brings me back to the Tao Te Ching and the inner space that makes a house livable.
It is so obvious that I have focused too much energy trying to fix the house, when really my body is moving me toward the “innerspace” that contains the substance of what it is that makes a life, rather than the singularity of structure. I can see the new outline of my work, one that focuses on the vibrancy of inhabiting a space rather than the egoic demand of possessing it. I have always found it interesting that houses staged to sell are depersonalized and houses that are lovingly lived in require a lengthy owners manual.
We give a lot of lip service to self awareness in the culture of American body practices, but subtly, we are always focused on the house and trying to fix it, in essence to depersonalize it, leaving no space for the very real possibility that the organic dwelling we live in might never rejuvenate, it might never be pain free or perform that well any more, and we might just have to date our mother anyway even though we know better.
Still innerspace is a place so select and so coveted that arriving there is, in itself, a gift. It is the place where extraneous distraction dissolves and what we are left with is an awareness, not so much of who we are, but that we are. Our path changes and adapts to allow for a concentrated experience of the wisdom of being that is uniquely un-self-focused. It is a time where “I” matters a whole lot less and “this” matters a whole lot more. In the ways that “I” am limited “this” is not, and knowing this gives us a chance to re-evaluate the value proposition that we've been fed, that our goal is to fix our body rather than inhabit ourselves.
I have finally begun to accept that my personal physique has very little to do with my capabilities. The PilatesYogaHealing work, and by extension this writing are really about liberating the innerspace so that the inevitable wear and tear on the house does not prevent us from realizing a full life.
As we move into the late summer season, I hope that you can thoroughly enjoy the longish days and coolish nights to come, appreciating like the Taoist masters, the abundance of what’s in the bowl as well as the bowl itself.
My very best to you always until we see each other,