Sometimes the Boot Sludge Tells You What You Need

Four years. Four. Four years.
Four years here.

It keeps repeating for me this week.

Four. Four. Four.

In a way it won’t compute.

I see it in my apartment – four years in the same place. And it feels like it’s been four minutes and nothing has changed; and it feels like in those four minutes everything has changed.

As I walked to the studio to teach earlier this week I thought about the nearly four years of taking those same steps – that same route. Back and forth. Over and over again. The same route and yet different each time.

Four years.

With an unknown experience waiting at the other end of that worn path each time.

Four years.

When I arrived here in New York four years ago I was in a place of deep grief, self-recrimination and self-destruction.

I had practiced yoga before moving here for several years. I went once a week no matter what was going on in my life and I rarely missed a class. Even when it was a half an hour drive to get there I still went. I really can’t say that I loved it or that I didn’t love it at the time. I can’t even say what it was that kept bringing me back each week but something did.

When I moved to New York that four-years-ago October I can’t say I particularly missed that weekly class (aside from missing my teacher) though I did notice its absence.

A few months passed and I could feel myself continue to destruct. I kept feeling something build inside me and repeat “you need yoga” over and over again. It grew in intensity until one night I finally listened. I sat down on my couch, resolved to find a studio, and searched on Google maps for a one nearby. The only studio that appeared was a place called Shambhala Yoga & Dance (though I’ve since learned there are several studios much closer to where I live). My decision was made. That’s where I would go.

It was January. Brutally cold. Snowing.

I felt ripped apart throughout my entire being. My internal state seemingly reflected by the weather. It took all my effort to drag myself, hunched over, legs heavy to the studio feeling miserable, freezing, broken, fearful and alone.

I arrived at the front door, took a deep breath then held it and wiped the tears from my eyes. I walked in and the small space was hot, already packed with people, and barely a breath of space in between each mat. The scene felt overwhelming and I felt stuck in place.

I looked around and my heart fell even further as I realized that the only place left to put my mat was in the disgusting, dirty, grey, boot sludge the others had dragged in off the street and left at the back of the room as they took off their boots. I already felt like I was lower than the boot sludge and I did not want to put my mat down in it. Instantly depressed, I nearly burst into tears.

As I turned to no longer have to face the sludge, trying not to cry and contemplating if I should leave, the teacher caught my eye and brightly shone saying, “welcome!” with open arms and a big smile. “What’s your name?”

I nearly burst into tears again, but this time of gratitude and relief.

It was enough for me to decide I would give in to the boot sludge. I wanted to be there. I wanted to stay. I knew I needed to stay.

The teacher followed up by asking the class, “is anyone new to vinyasa?”

I put up my hand desperately, having no clue what she was talking about.

“Can anyone switch places with Heather since she’s new so that she’s facing the same way as the rest of us?” (The boot sludge space was perpendicular to the rest of the mats). Some wonderful person volunteered seconds before I had put my mat down and I was rescued from the depths of the boot sludge.

In those few moments of kindness and caring, healing began.

And I kept coming back. Walking that same path over and over again to the studio. And then to it’s new home down the street and now its second location. Returning over and over as a student, as a trainee, as a teacher, to give and receive healing, to offer, to hold the space for others and to be held, to participate in ceremonies, circles, community.

And I continue to return in each of these roles – never knowing what experience will unfold, or whom I will meet, never knowing what emotions will emerge, or what depths will be traversed, but always grateful for each and every one (even when I feel like boot sludge). Grateful that without knowing what awaited me that first cold night, I still took the steps to find it.

Everything has changed in those four years that feel like four minutes. The change feels both gradual and instant. Through the practice of yoga, I’ve come to realize that it is all part of a long process of healing, learning, unfolding, living. Living each day without knowing the ending. Without knowing what’s next, but continuing to walk this path through life over and over again trusting in whatever experiences await and listening to what I need to be with and in each one that comes.