Sappho takes a selfie.
She is studying her face.
She wants to know how she looks
when she wants you to kiss her.
Can you read it?
Will you like it?
She takes a casual pose,
props her elbow on the window,
golden sunset behind her,
practices the look of surprise –
her camera has your eyes.
There is a yogic practice called seva, which just means service. It’s the simplest thing in the world, but it can be life-changing. All you do is serve others. Make it your job to help people wherever you can, however you can. Think about how you can help your coworkers. How can you be a beneficial presence in your loved one’s lives? How can you be the most use in the world? In my opinion, the ideal seva practice is one in which you are able to give much yet feel fulfilled and joyful about giving.
I was doing my yoga teacher training while working as a project manager, and that’s when I started to seriously apply seva to my life. I did not particularly love my work (although my coworkers were all wonderful people), but I needed to keep that job. I wasn’t the best PM ever, but viewing my job through the lens of seva made me pretty decent at it. I felt the most satisfied when I could help my team complete a project quickly and do the job well, but I still wasn’t helping enough. I was not making the world a better place by being there. Nothing happened at that company that couldn’t happen without me. My service was not essential, and I knew I could accomplish more elsewhere.
Since becoming a yoga teacher, I’ve spent most of my time looking for the ways I could do the most good for other people. In my relationships, in my yoga classes, and in derby, I look for the ways that I can be of the most service. The other night, I was getting ahead of myself thinking about which roller derby team I would like to be on. They all have different strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all made up of incredible athletes. The truth is, I would love to be on any of those teams, and if there’s a team that could use someone like me, I want to be on it. To me, that’s part of seva: send me where I’m needed, and I’ll find joy in the work.
The strangest part about seva is that while it opens up all kinds of opportunities for me, I never feel like I’m giving nearly as much as I’m receiving. If I do volunteer work, I feel humbled by the chance to serve other people. I learn more from my yoga students than I could ever teach them. And though I strive to hold up my end of the deal with my husband, I owe him more gratitude than I have words for. In other words, the more I focus on giving, the more I seem to receive.
That’s not to say I don’t look out for myself. It’s become more and more important in the past year for me to take care of my own health and monitor my own stress levels because serving all the time is exhausting. I require time for myself. I have to take long baths, lounge in the sun, eat good food, do my yoga practice and meditate – all those things that help me be happy and function in the world. And through the lens of seva, even those things become more joyful because I know that when I am well and happy, I can help spread wellness and happiness. Seva is becoming a positive cycle in my life.
It’s said that you can reach enlightenment through total dedication to any form of yoga, including seva. Let me be clear: I don’t know what enlightenment is and I’m not all that interested in reaching it. I’m more interested in learning to be a happy human being here and now, not some kind of radiant embodied deity (which is how I imagine enlightened folks). But I can testify that the pursuit of seva has changed my life. When I worked as a PM, I felt like my life had been hijacked. Now, the more I serve others, the more confirmation I get that I am on my right path. I think being on my right path and finding peace in the here and now is far more valuable than the endless pursuit of gloriously useless enlightenment.
I fell at practice last night and scared myself more than I hurt myself. I needed to get back on wheels tonight* and not let that fall defeat me, so me and my anxiety went to the skating rink with Jennanigans and her daughter.
The cool thing about skating with the Little One (we need to give her a derby name!) is she distracts me from myself. I’ll skate backwards in front of her slowly, pretending to guide her when really, I’m using her as a focal point so I will stop obsessing about the fact that “omg I’m going backwards!” After a few laps like that, I started to feel pretty good, but still struggled with transitions. Going backwards? Not so bad. Getting backwards? Scary, apparently.
One of the lame parts of open skate is self-consciousness (also known as just another form of fear). At derby practice, everyone is working on themselves and you know they’re not judging you. People fall so often during practice that no one even looks twice unless they think you might be seriously hurt. But at open skate, derby girls tend to stick out, and it’s a whole different atmosphere. The thought of a fall like last night’s during open skate made me too nervous to practice transitions on the track with kids.
I spent some time on more familiar skills including one-footed weaving. The weaving was where I got in trouble. Certain rink regulars love to give advice, and I haven’t minded it in the past, but tonight it was just a distraction. I really wanted to focus on my own work, but here I was trying to ignore this guy who wanted me to use my lifted leg as a rudder. He tried to quiz me on how boats work and actually asked, “Have you seen a boat?” I had to tell him, “Are we having a physics lesson now? I just wanna skate. I don’t wanna talk about it. I learn things by doing them.” What I wanted to tell him was I am from the motherfucking Gulf of Mexico. I have seen boats, my knee is not a rudder, and pumping your leg out to the side like you’re working an invisible thigh master is not going to make you go faster.
All the distractions eventually frustrated me enough that I gave up and went to work on the thing I was feeling afraid of. I went in the center of the rink and skated back and forth for around 30 minutes turning around over and over again. I figured out which one was my “bad side” and kept turning that way until it felt as good as my other side. I practiced until it didn’t feel scary, and then I did it some more just for good measure. It was not glamorous or interesting to watch I’m sure, but it felt pretty great.
Some days (like yesterday), I don’t even know why I want to play roller derby. I don’t care about being a star athlete. I’ve never even viewed myself as very athletic. I love the community, but that alone isn’t a good enough reason for me to push myself like this. Yet I am addicted to derby. It’s not just the endorphins from a good workout but the exhilaration of having dome something I was once afraid to do.
Chances are, the next time I put on skates I’ll still feel a little intimidated by my first couple transitions. Just like I used to be scared of crossing over. But crossovers kept getting easier until they became natural, and transitions will be the same. It’s funny to me that I can predict: This is going to get easier. I know it will because I’m practicing. That actually makes me feel powerful in a really simple and practical way. I have the ability to get better because I choose to practice.
*It’s 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but I’m still calling it Tuesday because I haven’t gone to sleep yet. So sue me.
Whenever you go away, I get homesick.
There are telling little mistakes in my handwriting.
I’m not here.
I try to be alone with the birds.
I take a bath, go outside, and think about how the air feels.
And the sun.
I seek sensations instead of memories.
Memory is never the delight it promises to be.
Crunching dry leaves in my fingers, I feel like I belong on earth,
but catching myself, I become self-conscious.
I make a weird kind of sense
in your context.
Even with the bullshit.
The things couples hide:
the expert fights,
the surgical strikes that make a late-night wasteland of our kitchen
when the pilots are drunk and grieving.
I know that kitchen — I know
what I will be feeling when we stand close together or far apart.
I’m comfortable with my rage and my fear.
I have always been afraid of the same things,
and one of them is love.
I look different than I used to. People comment on it. It’s weird.
People I barely know say I’ve been “slimming down” and ask if I’ve been working out. Um. I teach yoga for a living and skate 3-6 hours a week (way less than many of my league mates). I’ve had a general increase in activity in the past few months because business is good and derby is great, but I don’t feel inclined to explain this to people. The subtext of their intended compliment is, “Although we’re practically strangers, I’ve noticed some changes in your body because I consider it my job and/or right to critique the bodies of others, and I want you to know that I approve/disapprove/have concerns.” In other words, it’s presumptuous as fuck.
I try not to give weight-based compliments because human beings are beautiful by definition and attaching a person’s worth to their weight is shitty. But I will say stuff like, “Wow, you look amazing!” Or I might even say, “You look like you’ve been taking good care of yourself,” which I hear some people take to mean “you look fat,” but I actually mean it literally. I try to praise any positive changes in a person, and maybe it’s equally presumptuous of me. But everyone likes getting compliments, so if someone seems like they’re happy, less stressed out, or really following their passion in life — or if they’re just really well dressed and rocking it, I like to tell them.
But when it comes to weight/body-related commentary, I prefer to keep my mouth shut and think other people should, too. For one thing, asking about a person’s weight is both rude and pointless. 1: It’s none of your business. 2: The number means mind-blowingly little for most people. 3: If the person’s weight is a threat to their health and you’re not their doctor, they probably don’t need or want your advice.
I get it, though. Humans like to give and receive compliments. It’s an evolved social bonding system, and our egos love it. But I could really do without comments on my body from pretty much anyone ever. Because really, I’m not doing this for you.
And that’s all I have to say about that.