On Ducks. And How They Help me be a Better Speaker
November 24, 2015
Look out. There’s unvarnished truth in here. No pretending. Just honesty. Cos’ it’s one thing to talk all about what we know, and what we’ve got figured out. It’s another thing to say “Hey, sometimes I’m a mess, too.”
I had a speaking gig the other night.
At a big-ass yoga studio. In front of a pretty big-ass group of people. Not that their asses are actually big. That’s just a figure of speech. The night before I speak in front of a large studio audience I wake up at about two a.m. And I lie in bed talking to my body and my mind and telling them both to calm the F down and go to sleep. Until about 3:30 a.m. when I finally surrender to their demand that I DO NOT SLEEP and I get up.
This is what happened in the middle of the night
I walk up the stairs to get a drink of water. And eat a banana. Sometimes some yogurt. And then I go back downstairs and climb back into bed. I lie on my side and arrange the covers so I have the perfect bunch beneath my top arm, the perfect bunch behind my back, and the right amount over the side of my neck. Just up to my ears, but not beyond the earlobe. Because then they make that scratchy noise.
So I arrange the covers exactly right. And then I start to wiggle my toes. Because once, when I had been awake in the middle of the night and not sleeping and fighting with my mind and my body I started wiggling my toes and kind of meditating on them during each wiggle. And I fell asleep.
It hasn’t worked since. But I keep trying it anyway.
This is when it gets hilarious
About thirty minutes later, after I’ve sent them back and forward so many times my right big toe has gone numb and my left big toe has mutinied into inertia I give up. And get up. Again. I go into the guest bedroom and drop onto the floor. Meaning, I stick my legs straight out ahead of me, my palms flat down beside my hips, and then I lift my whole body up with my arms and drop it back down onto the floor. I do this fifteen times.
Then I kneel and circle my torso around my pelvis in a circular motion, while crossing my arms across my chest. For one minute. After that I stand up and do twenty seven squats. Then I sit back down, bend my knees up, put my hands down behind me and press my hips up into the air so that I look kind of like a tabletop, with my feet and hands holding my torso up and my head dropping back onto my shoulders. And just in case anybody watching me doesn’t already know for sure that I am either high on drugs or mentally unstable, I start to do this absolutely bonkers sounding breathing I learned from a yoga teacher where you basically make yourself exhale until you can’t anymore by drawing your belly button towards your spine repeatedly. This goes on for two minutes.
Then I do it all again.
And then again.
Then, I sit cross-legged with my arms raised up overhead curved so my fingertips are touching. Like I’m cradling a beach ball. On top of my head. I close my eyes and try to let myself be breathed. Being breathed is different than breathing. Being breathed feels more like the inhales and exhales are taking care of themselves and me at the same time and they fill up my belly and my rib cage and my chest on the way in and empty out my chest and my rib cage and my belly on the way out.
I do this for about seven minutes.
Then I go back to bed. Wiggle my toes. And finally, gloriously, fall asleep.
This is what happens in the morning
When my alarm goes off in the morning the first thing I do is try not to think about my speaking gig. I slide out from under the covers as carefully as I can, eyeing my sleeping husband.
I go upstairs to make my smoothie. Chocolate banana avocado. The same one every morning.
I go downstairs and make a nest of blankets: one over my crossed legs, one around my shoulders and another one over top of all of me. I meditate for fifteen minutes.
Then I inch my way into standing, painstakingly open the door so it doesn’t creak, and slide-walk into the bedroom, which is empty because Matt has gone upstairs. I wait until he’s in the bathroom before I come out of the bedroom and race to the hall closet to put on my shoes. On my way out the door, Matt comes back upstairs, smiles his crinkly-eyed shiny-from-the-inside smile, kisses me on the top of my head and then asks “What time is your thing tonight?”
And all of my meditating, all of my middle-of-the-night body slamming, all of my calming myself the F down—gone.
Now I’m thinking about who the hell I think I am, to be getting up there in front of all of these people, like I have something to say worth listening to, like I can actually help them. My small self gets even smaller. But you know what? Shrinking that fucker doesn’t make a difference. My small self is like Ant Man—it doesn’t matter how small she feels or is, she keeps her superhuman strength.
I’m flat out on the pavement in the middle of the road, watching two semi-trucks speed towards me. And in one truck is all of my “Who do I think I am?” and in the other is all of my “How do I think I can actually help them?” and in the middle of the road is me and my small self. She’s sitting on top of my chest.
I sprint down the sidewalk, charge across a street, careen around the fountain and then plough down the walkway—dodging moms and dads dragging or being dragged by their school-aged children, newer moms and dads who look like they got punched in both eyes zombie-walking their strollers, women with pony tails and yoga pants high-knee jogging, and guys with cell phones and a dog—with hair sticking up like they were too hot and rolled around a lot the whole night. The guys. Not the dog.
I pass them and avoid tripping as I stumble down the pathway to the water. And then, I’m there. The water is there. The ducks are there. I find them so comforting that I stop everything and stand staring at them. People going by me slow down or stop, scanning to see what fascinating unusual event this woman is looking at so intently. They see ducks. They keep going.
The ducks remind me that things are simple. That there’s a bigger picture. That life does not boil down to this one moment, this one activity. That I am making life into a much bigger deal than it needs to be—because don’t you see that you can swim and eat and nest and swim and that’s all it has to be? And when one of them laughs like Donald—or perhaps they are actually thinking of him, the poor duck who never got to wear pants and had a mismanaged temper—it makes me laugh, too. Those ducks. Always laughing.
The magic happens
I still run. But I’m not running away from anything anymore. I’m running into something. Lots of things. I’m running into the air that is kind of like mini kisses because of how the moisture hangs suspended in the early morning. I’m running along the grass and beneath the trees that cradle me and nod, tips of their branches tapping the top of my head. I’m pausing beside a bush that has iridescent purple berries that last for months and months. Way past anything that blooms or only comes out to say ‘hi’ in the spring. These iridescent purple berries are the queens of the garden—they reign even as the seasons change and other plants rise and fall, display their wares and then close up shop.
I do my presentation
That evening, I do my presentation. I talk and pause and support and answer and provide. Most of all, I try to get out of the way. I try to let my higher self be the one who shows up to touch the hearts of every person here. To help them to feel seen. Understood. Loved. Maybe even elevated.
And at the end, when I wrap up, they all stay sitting there. Breathing in and out. Settled.
When I begin to move and pack up they do, too. A girl with eyes gone big and round and a blanket of softness around her comes over to look up at me and say “Thank you so much. I feel like my soul is saying ‘Thank you for finally listening to me.’” A woman with red curly hair and a rope-braid purse tells me “Every time I see you, I want chocolate.” Which is pretty much the best compliment I’ve ever gotten. And another woman, a woman I’ve known for almost ten years, looks at me like she’s never seen me before and says: “You’re like a pillar up there. You’re so calm and peaceful. And strong.”
I don’t know how it happens. A part of me feels like I’ve done a really good job of duping everyone. That maybe I’m even duping myself.
But the other part of me, the part that is in me and also not of me, just smiles. Nods. Pats me on the back. And then goes home, falls into bed and goes to sleep.