May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind, (part the second), Cyndi Lee

After I finished this book, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck at the coffee shop with a partially consumed cup of tea and a kindle app that wouldn’t let me cut and paste. Unfortunately, the woman renting our flat needed us to vacate for a few hours so she could show it to some potential tenants, so there I was, antsy as anything, but also desperate to luxuriate in the deep peace of this book.

All I wanted was to go home and do the yoga practice Lee included at the end of the book, and I had a cheap mat there that was dying to be unrolled. Physically, I was a bundle of nerves, but my spirit had been soothed by the last few chapters, and I knew yoga could fix that dichotomy. I knew it, and I wanted it, and I couldn’t have it. I strongly suspected my whole body was going to revolt if I didn’t do something about that, so I glanced down and started reading the practice Lee had provided.

The first steps were to get comfortable and begin a process of deep breathing. I couldn’t do much about comfort, crammed as I was on a wooden chair pushed tightly into the table in order to make room for the gentlemen behind me, but nothing was stopping me from breathing. I put down my phone and the kindle and allowed myself to go a little slack. I closed my eyes and began to take slow, steadying breaths through the nose, just as I do in class at home.

I lost track of how long I sat like that, but it must have been a while, because when I opened my eyes, the tables around me had mostly emptied out. Of the two men working near me, only one of them seemed to have noticed my odd behavior. I didn’t care. I felt better, clearer, content to sit and watch the world go by. It was nice to feel so soft inside my own skin someplace other than on my mat. When it comes down to it, I believe this is one of the pivotal sensations Lee was searching for. She struggled and fell and rose again to inhabit her body with gratitude. After decades of a successful career built on treating her students with gentleness, she finally decided she deserved it herself.

Of course, deciding such a thing and achieving it are often far apart, and it is the distance between the two that create the framework for her compelling story. It’s in her vulnerability, as well as in the painful familiarity when she  backslides, that I was both most desperate for her to succeed and most desperate to follow the path she was on.

The power in her story is that it is both intimate and universal. The details of our histories may be unique, but the hurt we inflict upon ourselves is an old, cruel friend. Her optimism and her spiraling, her family, her marriage, her work – they belong to her, but also to us.

May I be safe,
May I be healthy,
May I be happy,
May I live with ease.

The instruction I had originally received was to say those four lines for three living beings: someone you love; someone you are having a problem with; and finally, for someone who is a neutral person to you. It is easy to wish happiness, health, safety, and a life of ease for those you love, but it gets more challenging to do that for someone you don’t like, and surprisingly, it is often most difficult for those you feel neutral toward. So the power of this practice is that it wakes us up to the fact that every single living being is like us; we all want to be happy and loved. It’s really as simple as that. Once that sensitivity is aroused, we begin to experience our own heart breaking in a beautiful way. This open heart no longer allows us to ignore other people or wish them ill, when we see so clearly that we are all suffering in some way or another already. (p 227).

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