This has been an unusual year for me. It began with the unexpected passing of my sister. She was 3 years my elder and the news came New Year’s Eve. Festivities came to a halt and I traveled to Ohio where she had lived for many years, to mourn, sort, pack and arrange. My birthday was a few weeks later and I just wanted to lie on the couch and sleep.
This week I unexpectedly relocated my father and stepmother to Colorado and into my home. It was unplanned and chaotic but the dust has started to settle. During both these periods of almost unbearable stress, thoughts of escaping to a river and being on the water was a quiet and comforting preoccupation. Waders and rods were temporarily abandoned to attend to pressing family matters. All the while knowing they would be there for me, waiting, until I returned.
I found just the thought of fishing, not actually doing it, calmed and soothed me like a meditation. Lost in my thoughts while driving across the country, I could feel the coolness of the river running past my legs and the pressure of it pushing against my thighs and even hear it in my ears. The frantic pace of the last two weeks were gradually slowed as I imagined the methodical rhythm of my cast and the line passing through the air, stretching and flowing above my head. Escaping to these familiar notions helped.
I practice yoga too, Bikram yoga which is a 90 minute, 26 posture series done in a room that’s at least 105 degrees with at least 40% humidity. To say it’s uncomfortable is an understatement. In fact, many people call the Bikram yoga room a hell or torture chamber. My teachers, Bridget and Kyle Baxter say that it’s a 90 minute moving meditation in which you learn to find comfort and peace, in the discomfort. Bridget says, “If you can learn to relax and be calm in the yoga room (while dealing with the heat, humidity and postures), you can deal with anything that the world throws at you outside the yoga room.” After these past two weeks, I believe it.
Even more powerful however, is the combination of my two past times, fly fishing and yoga. They complement each other in a very esoteric way. Both are quiet “sports” that allow for introspection and reflection. They require self-regulation and control. While practicing yoga or fishing, it can be looked upon as competing with yourself and the environment: the temperature and climate, the currents and water flows, the insects, the topography, the seasons, your body and of course, the fish. Do you find a gentle rhythm and breathe effortlessly? Do you attack the postures with purposeful determination and vigor? Or do you get frustrated and tangled in vegetation, lose your balance and fall, or struggle to breathe and miss the hook set?
It recently dawned on me that the more I engage and practice both fly fishing and yoga, the better I deal with life. Challenges abound, the fish aren’t biting? Change it up. I can control only what I can control. Getting hung up on trees and bushes? Take a deep breath, open my eyes and look around. Be more aware of my surroundings. Bridget says, “It’s simple but not easy.” How true. Fly fishing, especially Tenkara Fly fishing, is simple but not easy. We can make life, fishing, yoga, as complicated as we want, but it doesn’t have to be. We can also make them simple by being present, breathing through each day and each event and by being aware. By being patient and without over reacting, you improve. Bridget also says the micro-changes that we make, result in the greatest improvements. She says it takes greater control, understanding and self-awareness to make the smallest adjustments. How true. And the greatest practitioners do this by relaxing into postures, life, etc., and not muscling through things. Simple but not easy. When we follow this philosophy, we’ll catch fish, hold a posture and calmly handle life’s challenges without unnecessary added stress.
I am going to yoga tomorrow morning. I am exhausted and tired but I know each class I take is like making a deposit into a health savings account. I am scheduling time to fish this week too. Because. I. Need it. I am going to breathe through postures, breathe through knots, breathe through tree snags, breathe through my dismantled, turned upside-down home and be present.This is how I aim to live my life and hope that you might consider some aspect of this too.