Today I went to yoga class with a heavy heart.
I’ve been going to the same yoga class every Tuesday and Friday morning and I love it. The teacher is nice and so are my classmates. It is more than an exercise class for me. It’s like a social gathering with people who share my interest and I always look forward to seeing them.
What was different today was that I didn’t go last week. Would the teacher ask me for Valid Reasons?
‘Don’t be silly!’ I said to myself. It is a hobby class that I pay for. The teacher wouldn’t care. Some classmates were missing from time to time and when they came again, no one ever said anything. Or, did they? I wouldn’t know because my Greek is too limited to follow any conversations.
‘Why?’ My husband looked puzzled when I told him I was stressed.
‘I had Perfect Attendance at school!’
You see, School was Big Deal.
My dad never went to school and my mum only went a few years. My mum informed me repeatedly at an early age that I mustn’t ever miss school, just as dad never missed work. As far as I remember, I only got two sick days in primary school – one day was due to a major fever and the other… a rather embarrassing incident that I might tell you one day. My mum had taken me to school even when I had mild fever. I think I didn’t know how to communicate to my mum that I wasn’t well. And how could I have known under what exact conditions could one be rewarded a day off? Luckily, I was seldom sick and if that ever happened, my body instinctively saved that on a non-school day. School was Big Deal and a Very Good Place because it gave me opportunities, whatever that meant. Mum reminded me often that if I didn’t go to school, I would have been useless.
To demonstrate to my husband how my mum valued Perfect Attendance, I told him about the only time I was late for school.
I did not have any excuse to not be punctual for secondary school. I timed the walk from the entrance of my apartment building to the school gate and it was 1 minutes and 54 seconds, discounting the wait at the traffic lights. School started at 8:30am and I arrived most days at 7:30am to play basketball.
One day during my 6th year, I was stuck in the lift. Time was ticking and I went from ‘It’s alright, less basketball today’ to ‘I’m late for school!’. It was the unthinkable – I was never late for anything in my life so far and the school even gave me a Perfect Attendance Certificate recently to remind me not to dirty my record. It was actually a sore spot because I received much ridicules from my classmates – those sour grapes eaters who thought I was seriously un-cool.
Have you ever been in a confined space, by choice or by accident? It is quite a good place for contemplation and having realizations. In the lift, I went through stages of whatever kind of optimism to hopeless despair then back to whatever I don’t care let’s see what happens state of mind.
Finally, just after 9am, the maintenance man managed to get the lift moving but instead of taking it down to the ground floor, I was let out on the second floor and from there, I walked through the dark stairwell and exited the building through a gloomy side entrance.
I exited to a Whole New World!
The sky was blue, air fresh, and so much peace in the now deserted street! The rush hour for commuters was over and I found myself alone there without a bother. FREEDOM!!! I had a totally Valid Reason for being late. No one would question the exact minutes of my time stuck in the lift, would they? I was inspired by the air around me. FREE! I felt FREE! I was FREE to do anything for perhaps at least the next half hour. Where could I go? Not home! Where? How far? Should I just walk around till lunch time? It would be considerate of me to let the class continues without me knocking on the classroom door, right?
My mum hurried towards me. Yeah, right, haha, you can’t get me this time! All in my mind!
‘You are not thinking of skipping school, are you?’ My mum appeared in front of me, taking up all my new found air.
‘…… how do you know what I’m thinking?’ Too late to rearrange my guilty face, I came clean.
‘Of course I know what you are thinking! Don’t even think about it! I’ll walk with you.’
Have I told you that my mum is a mentalist? She does stage shows, turns people’s face green by telling them their secrets and then makes them bark like dogs. Well, she could have been, if she didn’t put all her eggs in one basket and focused on reading just my mind. She would have been a Mega Star entertaining the Royal Family and we would have been living in Vegas.
What really happened was that she left home shortly after me, went to the market and on her return, she saw from the security camera that her daughter was stuck in the lift. As soon as she realized that I was let out on the second floor, she went after me.
And so at the age of 17, I had my mum walking me to school. No, she didn’t hold my hand. She did offer to go to the classroom with me to talk to the teacher but I declined.
My mum reassured me several times that I had a Valid Reason (I know!!!) and we said goodbyes at the school gate but she stayed outside for a while to make sure I didn’t go back out. I knew because I checked. I learnt spying from my mum. Have I told you that she is a spy too? She could have put 007 to shame if she didn’t put all her eggs in one basket.
I created quite a stir with my entrance. The teacher dismissed me with a nod after I gave my Valid Reason and she gave the class a scary stare to hush the murmurs. But the excitement was too great and the teacher gave in.
‘Your Majesty! We thought you were kidnapped! We thought someone died! We thought YOU died! We didn’t know what to think!’
I appointed myself as King that year because school was a bore. Oh! My people remembered me!
‘What about Perfect Attendance?’ They remembered that too.
For the next few days I considered appealing to the school principal because it was a Big Deal. I decided against it because it was exhilarating to have become a Rebel. I didn’t have to uphold that Perfect Attendance anymore. I was free.
‘But that was so long ago!’ Yes, I know what you are thinking. I inherited the mind-reading ability.
We all have a set of beliefs firmly ingrained into our brains during our growing up years. Beliefs such as ‘Hurry! Or you’ll be late!’, ‘you must work hard’, ‘finish your food’. When we are being logical, we know that punctuality springs from good organization while rushing can lead to disarray; that we need to have a good balance between work and leisure; and that it is not good to force feed ourselves when we are full. However, even if a belief doesn’t serve us, it is the comfort zone. When we deviate from our comfort zone, we become stressed.
Since some of these beliefs were put onto us before we were matured enough to decide whether to accept or decline, it is a good idea to examine beliefs that give us stress and release them through meditation. My colleagues and myself can assist you on this if you are not sure how or where to proceed. A well-planned yoga class is also a great tool especially if you set an intention at the start of the class. Today’s class definitely did it for me.
Back to the yoga class today – I debated in my head when I arrived at the building. ‘The teacher will not ask anything!’ Whatever Optimism. ‘The teacher can mind his own business!’ Self-indignation. ‘I will enter the classroom after the class has started!’ Tip-Toe Mode.
I was on Tip-Toe Mode and thought I was safe when I entered the classroom. The teacher was busy talking to two classmates. I yia-sou-ed (hello-ed) him and sat down next to a classmate whose name I never got right. The name sounded like ‘left’ in Greek (aristera) and every class I greeted her with whatever similar sound that I managed to produce. Today I called her Eleftheria. It means Freedom.
She was patiently correcting me when a shadow descended on me.
‘Greek greek greek last week greek greek two times greek greek how are you greek greek why greek greek. All good? Greek greek?’ Greeked Asked the teacher, full of concern.
‘Tuesday. It was. I have. Something. Work.’ I gave him a version of the truth in my limited Greek. It was an emotional day and I chose to take a long walk on the beach to sort my head out. It is essential to look after my well being in order to look after others and I consider this part of my job.
‘Friday. It was. Good Weather. Nice. I want. Coffee. No inside. Outside. Table. Outside. My husband and I. Coffee. Café. Table. Outside.’ It was the first sunny day after some rainy ones.
‘Greek greek the sun greek greek coffee greek greek?’
‘Yes! Coffee. Outside. Café. Nice. I’m sorry!’
‘Hahahaha greek greek the sun greek greek hahaha the sun greek greek greek greek hahahahaha!’
Teacher then went to his mat to commence the class by saying ‘Stefania (my Greek name) greek greek greek the sun. The sun! Greek café greek greek greek hahahahaha!’
‘It is Yoga! Greek greek hahaha the sun! Greek greek!’ A classmate chipped in.
All that stress and debate in head for nothing! Everyone seemed to endorse my decision for having coffee under the sun! I set an intention for this yoga class to help me release the belief that I must have Perfect Attendance and to embrace that I am free to make choices.
We often come out of a meditation, yoga class or healing session with realizations. What I received today is this – after stripping off guilt, shame, embarrassment and all other unnecessary stress and emotions regarding Perfect Attendance, what remains is the simple fact that my mum cares about me. Now, whether to have Perfect Attendance or not, I can make my own choice, knowing that as long as I am well, or as well as I’m able to help myself to be, I’m honouring my mum’s love for me.
I am Free.
My teacher and classmates at Hatha Yoga Heraklion saying ‘Hong Kong How are you’ for an interview I had with a Hong Kong newspaper for their online version. If you are curious about my life in Greece, check out my Learning to be Greek Facebook page!