Walking into my daughter’s last band concert, I felt tears well up. Maudlin thoughts tore through me. “This is probably the second to last time I’ll ever walk into this high school.” “What will we do next year instead of coming to performances like this?” And “How on earth have our eight years at this school already flown by?” In short, “WAHHHH!”
As I sat in the audience, I was distracted from the music by my wistfulness. I counted the number of band concerts I’d attended in that auditorium. (Eight.) Then musicals. (Nine.) Then choir and orchestra concerts. (Sixteen.) As the sums from my mental math got larger, so did my feelings of “last time” sorrow. I was doing a truly excellent job of working myself up.
What I wasn’t doing an excellent job of, I thought, in a flash of clarity, was enjoying the concert. Which was a shame because (drum roll, please) it was the last time I would have the chance to enjoy listening to my daughter on this stage.
“Look at everything always as though you are seeing it either for the first time or the last time: thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” – Betty Smith
It was a great concert. As always, I was astonished at the talent on stage. I marveled that the music program in our schools is so rich that we can seat two full bands in high school. I was impressed by the solos. I enjoyed the wide-ranging music selections. I tapped my toes. I hummed along (quietly). I enjoyed the heck out of the show – possibly because I knew it was the last one.
I left that last band concert determined not to miss out on the joy that can come from all of the “last times” that lie in store for me over the next five weeks. I don’t want my feelings to distract me from appreciating another precious minute.
This isn’t to say that, in choosing to set aside my melancholy for the duration of the concert, I was no longer sad about this ending that I am navigating. I am absolutely sad. In fact, I was teary and out of sorts as we walked back to the car that night. And this is appropriate and OK. A significant stage of my life is drawing to a close. I need to feel these feelings in order to be open and ready to feel even a little excited about the potential and possibility nestled within this life transition.
Feelings (the good ones and the difficult ones) are real and valuable. They are not to be sneezed at or brushed aside. Feelings help us heal. They help us grow. They help us to clear our slate. Most importantly, feelings help us to understand ourselves better.
But we do not have to be at the mercy of our feelings. We can choose when and when not to allow them to take center stage.
I can honestly say that I didn’t know this was possible until I started practicing yoga. Practicing mindfulness has helped me to realize the fleeting nature of feelings – how they pass through me the way that clouds float across the sky. As the grey clouds obscured the blue skies above Philadelphia for weeks at a time this winter, some feelings can seem overwhelming and endless. But still, they pass.
I have learned to use my yoga practice to help me manage my feelings. If I’m upset or sad or angry or frazzled or devastated or … , I spend some time on my mat. As I move from posture to posture and breath to breath, my focus slips from the feelings that carried me to my mat to the experience I’m having on it: How it feels to stretch. How it feels to sweat. How it feels to try something new or to do something familiar.
Sometimes it only takes a minute or two. Sometimes it takes more than an hour. But I am always able to separate enough from my feelings to focus fully on my practice. In other words, yoga always helps me to disconnect enough from whatever I’m feeling to remind me that what I’m feeling is just a feeling. It is not forever. It will – somehow, someday – pass. I will one day feel other than I do right now.
This is exactly what I did at the last band concert. I plan to – over and over again for the next few weeks – make enough space between my feelings that I am able to see and feel and experience all the beauty and sweetness and even (to use Betty Smith’s word) glory of each coming last time. There will be plenty of time to be sad afterwards. And after that? Well, let’s just say that I know with certainty that blue skies will return.