The elements are bigger than me.
That is the phrase that has been running through my mind for the past several weeks. In Athens, Amorgos, and again once I was safely back on Texas soil (and even into parts of Arkansas and Louisiana).
The elements are bigger than me.
Obviously I’ve always known that. (Ok, maybe not always – but teenagers can be pretty cocky)
But knowing and honoring are different things, and sometimes even the best of us need reminders.
I am a planner by nature. I always have been. I love lists and calendars and schedules and timetables. If you read my blogs on prepping for Greece or Kansas City, this probably comes as no surprise to you.
I had big plans for Athens, I thought I understood how my time was going to be spent and what I would see and do, and the thing I wanted to do most of all was a day trip to Delphi. I don’t know why I attached myself to this idea so immensely. I was drawn to the idea of the the Oracle and it being the Center of Gaia (Grandmother Earth). Artifacts have been uncovered here dating as far back as the 8th century BC, and it was even the site of the Pythian Games – which pre-dates the Olympic Games. I read myths and histories, I was fascinated.
And then there was the heat wave.
My time in Athens was marked globally not only by a garbage strike, but by a record heat wave, with temperatures reaching as high as 112 degrees. Now try as I might, I cannot control the Sun, and all of the sites in Athens I had been thinking of so longingly were closing early or not opening at all to protect tourists and employees from inevitable heat stroke. So in the end there was no day trip, no 3 hour bus ride, no gift to the Oracle or chance to dip my hand in the Castilian Spring.
Honestly, I rolled with the change in plans pretty easily and I was feeling a little proud of myself for my growth and immense inner peace. It didn’t hurt that instead we went to Lake Vouliagmeni and the National Garden and splurged on dinner and wine.
We escaped the heat of the city as we sailed to Amorgos, the southern most island in the Cyclades. Once there, we had a detailed itinerary for our 6 days and I rewrote our printed schedule into my journal by hand, because that’s just the kind of girl I am.
As you might have guessed by the context of this post; on Day 2, the winds of change rolled in – quite literally. It got so windy and the sea so choppy that water activities were canceled and moved back again and again. It seemed like every day we were receiving a breakfast announcement of some change to our plans and schedule. Considering that besides yoga, the things I was looking forward to most on the island were snorkeling and scuba, I bore this news with a little less internal grace. Now keep in mind that I still got to do (almost) every activity I had planned- I just had to do them different days than what I wrote down in my well-worn journal, but my yogi patience was starting to wear.
Just like in Athens though- everything still turned out beautifully. Instead of Paddle Boarding I drank Old Fashions on the beach and Scuba Diving became the perfect last day activity to culminate my time on the island.
At the beginning of the retreat, Lauren asked us what our word or goal for the week was; how we wanted to feel throughout our time. My answer was to be present; to feel each moment. I understood how lucky I was to be there. I knew that this time and this space would embed deep into my soul and I didn’t want to give way to distraction.
Then one night after dinner, she and I were talking. I told her of the phrase that seemed sent to me, that I couldn’t get out of my head. “The elements are bigger than you”. And all the ways the elements had continued to change or effect my plans. The way my energy and heart seemed linked into the earth so much more than usual. She said easily that perhaps my word should be to surrender instead.
I spent the rest of my night thinking about surrendering; how you have to be present to do so, and how much ease it offers, how it is like floating in the beautiful, blue, salt water of the Aegean- you have to let go and allow the water to support you.
I loved it, and I knew she was right. I spent the rest of my days allowing myself to float, to flow, to surrender to my body and breath, and to take in every ounce of that island and hold it in my heart.
A few days later, we loaded onto the ferry to sailed back to Athens and I had a beautiful last 30 hours spent solo; getting my favorite souvenir and visiting the sites I had missed due to the heat wave (The National Cathedral, the Temple of Zeus, and the Pantheon – though, not Delphi).
I made to the airport easily with time to spare and had a lovely late night flight to London where I met the most interesting Belgian pilot and read my book-club book.
And that is where my ease in travel stopped for the rest of my trip.
It took me and hour and a half to get through passport control in Heathrow and I missed the last tube into London. I was booked into an over-booked hotel and spent 30 minutes waiting on a shuttle that never came. I lost my “One Night in London” grand adventure and was reminded that other people are just as strong of a force as the sun and the wind and I have no more control over the former as I do the later. I was tired, cranky, and defeated when I finally made it into a bed at 1:30AM.
But regardless of my disposition, the next day I traveled backwards through time and landed back in the states. Jet lag hit me like a ton a bricks as I unpacked and repacked, did laundry and snuggled my cat, and jumped back in the car to Kansas City.
The turn around was so quick, I still feel like I haven’t quite been able to process what Greece meant and all the ways it is working inside of me now.
But even so, I was looking forward to my 13 hours over 2 days in the car to sort it all out. I made my way to Texarkana enjoyed the most delicious stuffed tomatoes with a kindred spirit and went to bed with a full belly and the smell of red wine still in my nose.
Now, it has been a few years since I was in Arkansas and I forgot that for whatever reason, the entire state is a dead zone for me. I just don’t get any cell signal there. I don’t know why or how and I don’t pretend to understand how cell towers work. But either way, that’s the deal.
Even still, when I woke up the next morning bright and early and tapped in to my dear friend’s WiFi, I was overwhelmed by the number of messages and voicemail’s that started coming through.
Apparently overnight, my brother-in-law had been in terrible car accident. He suffered multiple injuries to all four limbs as well as his pelvis, spine, and clavicle.
I spent the next hour playing phone tag with my sister and my mom, calling my boss at the Coterie, and pretending like I had a decision to make. But I think we all knew there was no decision or choice involved. I needed to surrender.
I turned around and made my way back to Houston where he had been transferred; even then, the elements jumped in my path as I spent an hour sitting in a gas station parking lot waiting out a torrential down pour that ripped through the sky.
I arrived after he had been wheeled in for his first surgery.
Of course, I was worried about my plans. I was worried about my work, and I was worried about all the big and small ways I was inconveniencing those around me. But none of it mattered.
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali says that surrendering ourselves to that higher force (the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana) is one of the key components to becoming one with the greater being. To become all we are, we need to surrender the limited sense of who we are – the small self – in order to realize the large Self, or divine potential.
The one power we have, and always will have, is the ability to choose how we respond to life. We have the power to choose our actions, but we don’t have the power to determine the results. That is out of our hands. Thus, part of self-surrender is letting go of expectations – surrendering the fruit of our actions, as it is said in the Bhagavad Gita. This is a practice of trust. We trust our energy and intentions, we trust the world around us, and we trust that we are taken care of.
The sun doesn’t resist its own setting – it lets go, knowing that it will rise once again.
When we trust that we’re okay no matter what circumstances come our way, we don’t need to micro-manage the universe. We don’t need to grasp so tightly to our lists and plans. We surrender. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities and to a sense of calm, of freedom, and of peace within the chaos.
I made it to Kansas City a week late. I directed a play and taught a workshop and drank too much wine and took deep breaths. I left early and tumbled back into the arms of my family.
It was not the trip I planned, it was filled with stress and beauty and sweat and acceptance. It forced me to remember the parts of my world and of myself that are most important and it certainly kept me on my toes. (It also gave me 2 grey hairs).
The Elements Are Bigger Than Me
And I am so incredibly grateful that they are.