Hello September! I am so glad you are here!
To speak plainly, August is always rough for me. Not only is it as hot as Hades in the city, but there is a necessary slow down that often leaves me feeling lethargic and lackluster.
I enjoy slowing down by choice, like going on vacation or taking an afternoon off for self care. However, in August it always feels like I am forced to be less productive. Many of my students high-tail it out of the city in pursuit of cooler climes, so my schedule gets very expansive (ahem, empty).
I usually start out the month enjoying the spaciousness of my days. I have more time to relax, take care of myself, and spend time with friends. But I soon start to question my worth.
I was the type of child who hated getting sick and missing school because I felt like everyone was doing fascinating, life-changing things while I was lazily eating applesauce and soup and watching Days of Our Lives with my mom. As a grown-up, every August I feel that my lack of focus and motivation is a deep-seated problem that means I am an inherently lazy human with no discipline. As a result, I usually spend the better part of the month feeling insecure, and to put it bluntly, depressed.
I don’t think I am alone. I believe many of us continue to define ourselves by our productivity, the amount of work we can get done in a single day and the paycheck that comes with it. But who do we become when our productivity goes down? What happens when we can’t throw ourselves into our work because we get sick, or injured, or we have a major life change that requires all of our attention? What if we just lose steam and motivation?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali remind us of the concept of samskara, which is the human tendency to repeat the same habits over and over again, remaining stuck in the same patterns and cycles of ignorance so that we never fully awaken to our true nature. The word samskara is often translated as “wheel” and I have heard samskara likened to a hamster running endless circles on its’ tiny wheel, never getting anywhere. Luckily Patanjali has a remedy to this cycle which is viveka- discrimination between the real and unreal, the permanent and impermanent, and the Self and non-Self.
As I felt myself fall into the same cycle of late-summer insecurity, I decided that I did not want to be a hamster on a wheel. I started to watch my thoughts carefully during meditation and daily tasks- noticing when my inner dialogue started to bully my already fragile self, and observing when I started to spin yarns about who I was and wasn’t. I practiced shifting the narrative to something more compassionate. It went something like this:
Bully Jess: “C’mon Jess, you only taught one class today. Why are you so tired? There’s no excuse for this. You should be writing more. You should be teaching more. You should be advertising your services. You are lazy. You are a waste of space. You need to find a way to make more money”.
Nice Jess: “Wait, it’s okay that you are tired. It’s really hot outside and you put a lot of energy into that class you taught. It went well and you felt really connected to your students. What would make you feel more energized right now? Maybe a little yoga? Maybe some cold watermelon? Or maybe you are simply tired and need a nap. It’s okay that you are not making as much money right now. You are about to get really busy in September, so try to relax. It will be okay. You are okay.”
It may sound like cheesy affirmations, but it wasn’t. It was simply me being a friend to myself.
It helped. I began to focus on what I WAS doing instead of what I WAS NOT. I was cooking more, enjoying lunch dates and long weekends with my new husband, meeting with friends, spending time reading and deep-cleaning the apartment. When I started to change my storyline, I was able to focus on the gift of space that I had been afforded.
Now September is here and as always, my schedule has already started to fill up- a reminder that nothing is permanent. As I look ahead to busy weekends and shorter days, I am grateful for August; for the hot afternoons and the long days that helped me learn to feel more at ease with myself in the sticky, but empty (ahem, expansive) days of summer.
Enjoy this meditation practice for working with sticky emotions:
Sit in a comfortable position either on a few pillows, blankets, or a chair. You can also lie down.
Notice the sensation where the floor meets your body. Release the weight of your body into the floor.
Notice your inhales and your exhales.
Turn your attention to the energy of your emotions. What emotion is the strongest for you right now? Be open to the possibility that you may not feel any strong emotion. Let your attention rest on that emotion (or lack thereof). Is there a word or image that comes to mind?
Notice any sensations in your body that arise.
Turn your attention back to your normal, comfortable breath.
If you choose to, you can work with the mantra “I Am”. As you inhale, soundlessly repeat the word “I”. As you exhale, repeat the word “Am”. You can also replace these sounds with a different mantra that feels more personal to you.
Stay for several rounds of breath. The point is to become more familiar with your emotions, not necessarily make them go away.
- Return to this practice anytime you need a reminder that you are okay as you are.