• Lijing Cobb

Check in

This month I want to focus on exploring the second principle in the Yamas, Satya, or truthfulness, which is inextricably linked to Ahimsa, or non-violence. For the first week I’ll be paying particular attention to situations where I’m tempted to cover up the truth, and be “nice” instead to gain approval or avoid unpleasantries.

I remember seeing a post on Facebook that sparked a lot of reactions from many moms, and it said, “Patience: what you have when there are others around.” It seems that we all try to put up a front of “nice” and hide the “real” behind it. What’s so bad about that?

I discovered lately that my son and I share a pretty damaging habit that seems to overtake us from time to time for no apparent reason. We would unfocus our eyes, stare into space, and get lost in the realm of nowhere for as long as we can. The more we allowed ourselves to be immersed in this kind of trance, the less we were able to reconnect back to what’s actually going on in our external world. I noticed that when I’m consistently foggy, it is very difficult for me to have any patience with anyone or anything. The fogginess covers up the realness in people and situations, so that I simply react out of habit, like a sleepwalking person who has no awareness of what she was not looking for already.

That kind of practice had danger written all over it. My son and I named it “check out,” and we agreed to “check in” instead, and to check in with each other to “check in.”

When I first talked with my son about “check out,” I tried to describe my experience with it through the following analogy, and I thought it was pretty close to what happens in such a situation.

“Say that I am a cordless vacuum. If you keep me charged all the time, I work when you need me to. But to check out is like unplugging me from my power source. When I’m unplugged I no longer get charged. Worse yet, my battery gets drained while unplugged. The longer I stay unplugged, the lower my battery gets. The more I get unplugged, the less likely I’ll function to my full capacity. When my battery finally runs out I eek and squeak to try to stay alive, but there’s no more left inside for me to give. That’s what it feels like when I check out all the time.”

“Yes mommy, that’s it! That’s what happens to me!” My son’s eyes lit up and he went on excitedly to describe what he would be doing in his “check out” sessions. We power ourselves down and disconnect from the energy source of the world to stay in the twilight zone where nothing seems real. No pain there, but also no happiness.

“You know, son, I think check out is such an easy thing to do. Whenever there is anything in our real life that needs attention from us and we don’t want to give attention, we can just choose to check out and stay unplugged. But I think if we are brave we would not choose the easy thing. We would stay plugged in and continue to function even though we find ourselves in unpleasant situations. Because we don’t want to end up forgetting how to plug back in, right?”

“That would be really sad.” My son answered, and continued with this observation: “that’s when we will die.”

Indeed. Yesterday we celebrated the Chinese New Year by taking the day off to go skiing. Being a novice skier, I was extremely cautious on the green, and managed to get down the slope without falling in my first round. On our way down the same trail for the second time, I applied what I gained from my first run and performed much better. Third time down, I had gained the confidence of a blue skier. Tired and hungry, I suggested to my daughters that we take a lunch break, but they begged to go another round, so I complied. Maybe I could push it.

But no, that’s not what my ski said. While the girls went blithely ahead, I found myself on the ground, a little shocked by my first fall. After what seemed like an eternity and I finally regained my upright position, I managed to finish the rest of the run without further horizontal encounters. All of a sudden, the trail that had begun to seem smooth and flat in my third attempt had regained its sharp slopes and turns and threatened to topple me over at any point. Alas, I did not honor my own truth and my truth spoke to me in a stern voice.

Over lunch, my girls and I learned that my husband and son, after spending their first 3 runs on the same green with us, had gone over to a blue run on their 3rd time up the ski lift. The blue was pretty much the same as the green, my husband promised. So we decided that we would all go try out that flat blue after lunch.

After we finished our last bites, we had to go down the slope first before taking the lift back to the top to access the said blue, as the restaurant was situated about 1/5 of the way down the green run we were on. When my legs found the skis again, which carried me over the now fairly familiar terrain for the 5th time, I noticed that my body felt very different. There was a stiffness in my shins and feet that was not there before, and I could barely command them to push, lift, or turn. Perhaps I am tired? I asked myself. Of course not! I dismissed the idea. I’m a fitness trainer, damn it. I’m in tiptop shape! These few measly runs mean nothing!

So by the time we got back up to the top, we turned left instead of right to explore the flat blue my husband had described. Following our fearless leader who would not hesitate going down double black diamond with fearsome names like “Widowmaker” and “Nightmare,” we perched ourselves at the start of a blue trail, a different one than the one my husband and son had some personal knowledge of, because, you know, oh well, might as well, it was closer.

When I looked at the trail from the top, it looked pretty steep to me. Should I do this? My stiff shins and feet screamed NOOOOOO, my easygoing, nice self said, why not? What could go wrong?

Off they went, my husband and 3 children. Me? 2 seconds down and I was on my butt, one ski off the boot 5 feet of slope above me. I army crawled back up to retrieve it, and then decided that it’s best to stay on my butt and shimmy down the 50 feet between me and the flat green connector. 2 minutes later I arrived at safety, put my ski back on, and shuffled my way across the endless connector without those ski poles that I decided not to get because a ski instructor had once told me that they were unnecessary. Everyone else on that green belt carried a pair of unnecessary ski poles and whooshed past me. I persisted in shuffling. This too shall pass.

I have no memory of how I got reunited with my husband and two of my kids, but there we were and I could not wait to get my shins and feet out of my boots. We were missing one kid, our 10yo, so I sent my husband to go find our child while I helped the other two get out of their boots as we waited. My daughter came back on her own, frightened, crying. Being more competent on the ski than her siblings, she had gone ahead of them while my husband stayed with the younger two, waited forever for them to get down to the bottom and decided that they were never going to show up, took the ski lift back up, only to see my husband and the little one inching down the slope while she was in that lift chair way above them, so she went down again to chase after them, but missed them again. Meanwhile my husband took the other two kids and came back up without her, thinking that she was with me the whole time.

We all have our own realities. Sometimes they are very different from each other. Right there on that not so flat blue we had at least 4 different realities going on, but we tried to mesh them all into one, ending up in some drama that could have potentially become disastrous. When our realities don’t coincide with others’, it’s critical that we stay with our own reality and stay checked in. I talked to my daughter about her reality: first of all, do not freak out. We would not leave without her. Second, return to where we started, that’s where we would leave from. Third, if all else fails, borrow a phone from a kind stranger and call us. The mysteries of an otherwise frightening situation can be easily deconstructed as long as we stay checked in.

So the moral of the story for me is to stay checked in with the truth of my own body. When I follow other people’s advice/suggestion/opinion without honoring the wish and needs of my own body, there is always mishap. My daughters wanted the 4th run, not me, but I wanted to be nice. My husband, the daredevil of the family, the black diamond scaler, thought the blue was flat and therefore all blues were flat just like the green, not my shins and feet, but I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer and and ruin the fun for the family. My ski instructor thought poles were unnecessary, not the endless trek on the green connector, but I took his word for it and did not bother to investigate the functionalities of this seemingly indispensable accoutrement of the common skier. My idea of my fitness status thought nothing of those measly green runs, not my shins and feet, but I dismissed the persistent screams from both of them, “get us out of here!” And pretended that everything was ok.

Knowledge is power, confidence is fuel. When you have neither, lights out. You end up butt-scooting down a ski slope and ugly shuffling forever until you get back to your own reality. Stay checked in, my friends, it is only just to avoid pain and suffering. When we practice being unreal with ourselves and “nice” to others, we end up finding ourselves in supremely edifying situations. Everything is never ok when we are disconnected and unplugged from our own body and reality.

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