Unwritten Stories

 Anne and her son, Ben

Anne and her son, Ben

“Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten. ~ Unwritten, Natasha Bedingfield

My son was home for a holiday, and we had the rare occasion to tool around town, having lunch and the chance to walk and shop in the sunshine of the first warm day of the season.

I have no place I have to be, he exclaimed, grateful for such unusual circumstances. There’s nothing I have to be doing right now.

We stopped in a refurbished firehouse that was home to a cool, new shoe store. The interior was designed like an old library, and as we sat down on a plush, oversized couch, I pointed out several shelves of blank books, none of which had covers, words or titles.

Look, I said. None of the books are written. They’re all blank.

My son was busy talking to the salesman. Turns out, they were close in age and knew some of the same people from a few years back.

So, to answer me, my son was really on another subject.

You know, I find myself feeling nostalgic for when I was a few years younger, he said, while holding a shoe in his hand. And I know that means I’m going to feel the same way later about this time now.

I used the years I had on him and those blank books as vantage points, telling him that’s how it goes, that the challenge lies in being present, because we can always reminisce about our past stories even as we anticipate those ahead.

I think we all have a story we tell ourselves. It’s how we outline our lives, determining who we’ve been and where we think we’re going. I’m grateful that my son was already figuring this out, there in the shoe store, because it’s taken me quite some time to do so for myself.

For some reason, it’s taken the practice of yoga to unfold my story. For a long time, I kept my story from most others and even from myself. In fact, for a long time, I couldn’t even find the words for it. It was like one of those blank books high on a shelf, and having it out of reach like that allowed me to sit in a sort of stillness for quite a while.

And then came yoga, and I started to move. It was weird at first, and I was pretty self-conscious. Practicing took a lot of encouragement and a lot of perseverance before it settled into my bones and became a part of me. But over time, it was as if each pose lifted a piece of my story off the shelf and brought it to eye level, demanding a read, a critique, a review.

Now I’m more of an open book, almost the opposite of me. And I’m writing. A little here and a little there, I’m letting myself be known. I write about yoga, and before I know it I’m writing about myself. And it’s in this way that I’m discovering my story, my take on who I was and how I got to be where I am, even if I’m not always so sure of where I’m going.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this, either, in the discovery of the story that I myself am living. I think others do this in their own time, too. For so many of the people who have been reading me have also been talking to me, letting me in on what about my story connects to them, and how they welcome the words that articulate their own.

But now I’ve also come to understand that oftentimes the stories we tell ourselves can be limiting. It can be compelling to identify with only one and then stick with it. The outline may be complete, and it can even be fleshed out with a good bit of drama and some colorful characters, too. But, of course, the ending then is always the same, especially if it’s autobiographical.

So, while comfort can often be found in telling myself the same tale over and over, after a while, it’s probably time for a new one, for something unwritten.

The other night, I attended a Rocket yoga class. I’ve come to love this style of yoga born from Ashtanga.  It’s sequential and linear, and it’s become a part of my story three times a week. This one I don’t mind re-reading, and its pages are well-worn from multiple practices.

I arrive on the late side and was the last to stand at the top of my mat to await the instructor’s narrative. I know how it begins, but tonight the words are different. We’re told that we’ll be practicing Budokon instead, a mix of yoga and martial arts, another story altogether.

The practice is intense and different. Where Rocket is linear, Budokon is circular. I couldn’t anticipate any of it, and each pose required a new and concentrated effort.

At the end, we lay in Savasana, the final resting pose.

Tonight, you got something you didn’t expect, the instructor said as we lay there. Check in with yourselves to see how that feels.

And I realized it felt pretty good.

Savasana is followed by a request to turn onto our right sides, pulling our knees into a fetal position. This part of the practice symbolizes rebirth, and all of the adults in the room curl up like newborns before rising to a seated position.

And as I roll onto my side, I have a thought. It occurs to me that all of us are not just the stories we tell ourselves. We also get to be our unwritten stories.

Rolling to the right is like turning the page to the unexpected, and this can be done at any time, even in the middle of a shoe store or at the beginning of a class.

And for me, it’s the practice that shows how this newly turned page might be blank but can be filled with hope.

In closing, I place my hands at forehead center and join the others in bowing forward, thanking the teacher within by sharing the word, Namaste.

And as is so often the case, I’m filled with so much gratitude that it takes a moment to come up from my bow. I linger there, thankful for finally finding the voice to my story, for having the space to reread it as often as I do, and for the chance to write a new one, too.