Half Empty, Half Full

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It has been a very lean summer. Everyone is cutting back, stores are closing, and I don’t know anyone who takes their job (if they still have one) for granted. Those of us who are self-employed continue to blog, network, write our books, and drum up gigs wherever we can. We are all caught up in the Half-Empty, Half-Full game: the constant choice between focusing on what is not so great and what is still pretty good.

The metaphysics of this game are complex, but anyone can play. Just pick something—say your child has the chicken pox. She is cranky, feverish, and can’t go to childcare while she’s sick, which means that you have to stay home from work and watch her. You are suffering from sleep deprivation not to mention lost wages, increased health care costs and heightened anxiety. What do you do? Do you bemoan your fate or count your blessings?

I currently play several versions of this game. There is the almost daily trip to the post office, where I see whether my mail contains more checks than bills. When it brings in more bills I try to adopt a zen-like attitude and let my money worries flow through me like a mountain stream till I end up refreshed and re-focused. Some days this is easy, but sometimes my attempt at calm equanimity feels more like grim determination.

Then there are the days when the checks outnumber the bills. Oh, happiness! Yet are these too mere fleeting moments, or are they a sign that things are improving? The conundrum of the Half-Empty, Half-Full game is that no matter which answer you choose, it somehow never feels quite right. Hey, I’m an American! Don’t I get more choices?

Last month I re-injured my shoulder in a particularly strenuous yoga class. I took some time off to heal, went traveling to Chicago, and returned to yoga a week ago ready to face the new state of my body. Predictably, I was distressed at the decreased range of motion my shoulder has. After getting so much better over the past year, I could now barely lift my arm over my head without feeling strain across my neck and upper back.

It felt good to be back on the mat, though. Doggedly, I started finding work-arounds to some of the more shoulder-intensive postures, and have had some success with staying more mindful of the energy flow through my back and shoulders. But today I found myself in a familiar mental loop. I was sure my body was too old and cranky to overcome the injury and get better at yoga. Then I felt I could do it by cultivating more patience, which was a virtue in itself anyway. I should be grateful I hadn’t broken my leg, right?

Drat. I had landed right in the middle of another Half-Empty, Half-Full game. 

Fortunately I was deep into a 90-minute yoga session when it happened, sweating a river just like everyone else in the room. Either I was going to stay cranky or I was going to let something else show up, so I started breathing deeper with each movement.

The moves I could do, extending and strengthening my lower body, I did with full energy. When a posture required me to arch my back or extend my arms, I let my whole upper body fill with breath like a balloon that was inflated several inches beyond my torso. It felt like a protective cushion that supported my back and spine, expanded my rib cage, and didn’t allow any strain to creep into my shoulders, neck or head. 

I stayed with this visualization through the intense part of class, and felt an increased sense of lightness in my body. I kept at it as we moved to more gentle stretches and twists, and then it hit me. The whole transition of middle age is about letting go of how our bodies “used to work,” and accepting that we are more energy than form. What I was experiencing wasn’t a setback, it was a preview of things to come.

The solution to this particular Half-Empty, Half-Full game was to realize that I needed to shift my entire perspective. Instead of concentrating on building physical strength or endurance, it was time to learn about being at home with more breath, more ki, in everything. Eventually the body falls apart. But perhaps the spirit has even more to offer.

One of the things I love about yoga is that I am such a beginner at it. Now I feel even more like a beginner than before. This is a good set of problems to have: learning to readjust my expectations, and re-center my practice for a changing body and changing times. I don’t know where the glass is, but at the moment I feel pretty happy about the whole thing.

3 thoughts on “Half Empty, Half Full

  1. Cari Ferraro

    I enjoyed reading your description of what I discovered a long time ago: the beginning of body wisdom, which ironically seems to come as the body begins to age. And this is a work in progress, a lesson that needs to be learned again and again. I have been on a journey with chronic pain since 1997, and it made its first appearance during yoga. From one day to the next I couldn’t sit cross-legged on the floor anymore, and never have been able to since. Disability prevented me from continuing with my former yoga practice, but has morphed into a daily qigong practice which helps me keep moving and flexible. You might like to read my blog post “Posture as Body Prayer”, and possibly the rest of my “body wisdom” posts from there. I have found strength and inspiration in the regal postures of ancient goddess images.
    Here’s the link: http://cariferraro.blogspot.com/2009/06/posture-and-pride.html

  2. jane

    Is the glass half-empty or half-full? I say it’s mixed media, water is faith, learn to drink from your own cup.

  3. Alan Joel

    An excellent post and a good commentary on the “game” of cup half empty or half full. I am also an enthusiastic yoga practitioner and injured my collarbone a while back. It was actually nice to do some of the workarounds, like you mention in your post, and do some poses that I don’t usually do as part of my routine to avoid using the collarbone (no plank pose for me!). What I’m noticing is that as the economy goes through its ups and downs, and humanity experiences the increasingly fast stream of manifestation as we enter more fully into the Aquarian Age, it takes more focus to stay in “half full” mode. At the same time, though, I’m having an easier time, once positive, manifesting and creating. The faster stream of energy is a double edged sword, depending on whether I use it consciously or not. Excellent post on the sign of our times!

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