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Zen and Managing “Type A” Expectations, a.k.a, “Pele’s World”

I’ve felt for quite a few years that I had conquered my “type A” personality: as I consider it, probably not surprisingly, I think I’ve felt that way for about as long as this house project has been going on (go figure!). For fun, let’s call my “type A” personality “Pele” after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire. Mind you, reducing Pele’s influence was never a conscious goal for me, but it turns out that controlling, if not truly conquering her was a necessary evolution.

For approximately half of my adult life, Pele ruled. She had to, really. I was the breadwinner, so her fire was crucial. However, being married to someone with ADHD, and later, discovering that both of my children were also simultaneously gifted and cursed with it, caused me to slowly realize that I needed to cultivate patience, and, in effect, do something to manage her, or her demanding nature would be the undoing of everything I was supposed to be working for.

Enter yoga. I started practicing back in about 2003. I had tried it many times prior to that, always giving up in utter frustration when things got uncomfortable, which usually happened about 5 – 7 minutes into any attempt. Yet, something in me (maybe Pele herself and her unquenchable need to overcome failure? Maybe some deep-seated, but unconscious self-awareness?) kept coming back to it, despite my rather abysmal track record. In partial hindsight, though, I believe yoga might be the thing I’ve done in my life that has been the most beneficial, and the most life-altering.

Wait a minute – isn’t today’s post supposed to be about house stuff? Why am I writing about this? Mainly, it’s because the current bathroom project has taken *so* much longer than I originally anticipated, for a host of extremely valid reasons. Valid or not, it’s testing me, or rather, it’s testing my ability to manage Pele, so she’s today’s muse.

You see, my Pele struggles on a near-daily basis with the validity of the reasons this effort has been so protracted, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Frankly, if I were to have given Pele her voice every time she flared up inside me, I’m about 98% certain that the entire house project would have been abandoned along the way, as would my marriage (which, for those new to this, happens to be to my contractor, Tim, though the marriage happened long before the 9+ year renovation project).

So back to yoga for a moment: the evolution of my entire practice has been a microcosm of this larger house project. I noted above that my earlier fails with this previously unreachable art were about my frustration when things got uncomfortable. Well, guess what? This project has been a 9+ year series of uncomfortable moments, interspersed with triumphs, interspersed with sometimes seemingly interminable periods of inactivity – those are the toughest for Pele.

I was finally able to trick myself into sticking with yoga when I serendipitously stumbled upon a particular yoga DVD, in a style of practice that Pele could handle. As a result, over time, my strength, and especially, my flexibility, improved and I arrived at a place where I actually craved certain moves (a.k.a, positions) that used to reduce me to angry tears. I guided myself into types of practice I would never have been able to manage when I began – ones that required true patience and focus and the ability to discern between genuine pain and the discomfort of pushing boundaries. I discovered that my flexibility (or lack thereof) and discomfort were far more mental than physical.

Thankfully, I was coming to that point at around the time that we were kicking off the house project in earnest. I had learned how to breathe, which might sound stupid, but in the realm of yoga, breath and *awareness* of breath are the keys to centering yourself amidst trials of all kinds. At first it was a subtle shift that happened in my body, but eventually, it became an almost magical ability with which I could turn a challenge into the sometimes gentle rain, and other times, the fire hose I needed to turn on Pele to douse her inferno.

She is a constant presence in my life – like the molten iron core of our planet – always ready to burst through a fault line that’s weak enough. Lately the fault line is this last bathroom. Aside from the work to be done outside, most of which is more within my direct control, this bathroom is the last horizon of the overall renovation project. Most of the time, the fault line holds, but the tiniest shift (which could be triggered by coffee stains left in the sink with dirty dishes and hardened bits of lunch, one-too-many balled up socks lying around where it shouldn’t be, a dried glob of joint compound in the shape of half a footprint on the entryway carpet as I arrive home from an unexpected appendectomy . . .) can result in an eruption. Sometimes, I just have to let Pele erupt. But most of the time, my Zen, in the form of my yoga mind, appears when I need it, like my very own emotional volunteer fire department. It’s good to know it’s there. 🙂


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