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“Hey, tomorrow, now don’t you go away, ’cause freedom just might come your way.” ~ Mother Freedom, Bread

I got stuck in an alley the other night.

I was on my way to a yoga class downtown, looking for a parking spot in a new car that I’d only recently been driving. I was still learning its dimensions.

I had driven to the lot where I usually find a good parking spot, but all the spots were taken. And so, I drove further on, into an adjacent alley that serves as secret passage to an even more remote lot. I’d learned of this other lot from some of the other yogis, but tonight it seemed especially small and even more remote than usual. Perhaps this was because the sun had almost set. The clocks had only recently been changed, and it was already getting dark.  

I couldn’t seem to find a good place to fit, and so I idled in the alleyway between the two lots. I had just driven all the way downtown, but my instincts were telling me it was time to turn around. And so, just like that, without any more thought, I decided to follow them home. There would be no yoga for me tonight, after all. It was a pretty quick decision.

In the past, I haven’t always been so quick with my decisions. There have been times when the most I could do was sit idly by, because my anxiety had risen so high. Those were usually the times when the sun had set on something I’d least expect, and I’d find it hard to decide on what to do next. Unable to see even one possibility, I’d inevitably lose touch with my gut and find myself stuck.    

I’d been down this alley before; but, in my new car I just wasn’t as certain. It was a very tight fit, and I needed to figure the best way out. For a moment, I considered driving in reverse, back toward the first lot, but I’d seen earlier that its exit had been blocked. And so, I looked ahead, instead, all the way to the end of the alley, where I could see the other cars whizzing by in the freedom of the open road. And that’s when I knew what I had to do. Suddenly, it was obvious that the only way out was through. And so, I put my car in gear, gently pressed the gas and began to inch my way forward.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that the only way out was through, but I never knew exactly what that meant. Such an idea had always seemed counterintuitive to me. Why would I want to go through anything that I would otherwise choose not to? But experience has since taught me that such thinking is resistant, which is the very thinking that can get me stuck. And so now I’ve learned that if I want to get to know my own dimensions, I will have to go through whatever it is that I’d rather go around. And I’ve also learned that if that should take me a while to do, then that’s okay, too, because sometimes getting to a good place can only be done at a snail’s pace.         

Halfway down the alleyway, a pole loomed into view. I continued driving until I reached it, but then I had to stop. I just didn’t think that I could make it safely past that pole without losing my side mirror! Again, I idled, thinking that perhaps I’d been too hasty in my decision to drive ahead. I looked back over my shoulder and reconsidered. Perhaps I could drive backward, after all, past the lot with the secret parking spots, all the way back to the very first lot. Although I had seen earlier that its exit was blocked, I figured that maybe I could give its entrance a shot. That way, I could exit the same way I had entered. Changing my mind as quickly as I’d just set it, I decided to go for it. I put my car in reverse, gently pressed the gas and this time began to inch my way backward.  

With barely room to spare on either side, I drove cautiously, while also checking my side mirrors. The walls of the alley hugged me so tight that I feared I might drift too far left or too far right. Finally, I got as far as halfway back, before I felt compelled to stop again. I just didn’t have the faith that I could continue driving backward without incident. I idled again in the alleyway between the two lots, trying to make up my mind. Finally, I decided to change course again, thinking that it had to be less risky to drive in the direction ahead instead of the one behind. So, I put the car in gear for yet another time, gently pressed the gas and began to inch my way forward once more.     

I would be sorry to miss tonight’s class, but I knew I was making the right decision. Yoga has played such a big part in teaching me how to better trust my instincts, mostly because it’s taught me how to better trust myself. But I must say that, much like tonight’s back and forth in the alleyway, learning how to trust myself has been an exercise in trial and error. Yet, this is true of yoga, too. Trial and error is such an integral part of the practice that even our missteps are forgiven. At yoga, we get to put forth our best efforts, and however that goes is okay. If we fall out of the poses, we’re simply encouraged to come back in. We always have an open invitation to return and try again.       

That’s not to say that yoga isn’t without its frustrations. On some days, there are so many! Yoga can be tough, because the practice demands a certain vulnerability. For as much as the poses fortify us, they also put us in spaces so tight that it can be impossible to escape even ourselves. And that exposes us in such a way that we’re left with no choice but to see ourselves as we are and to even let ourselves be seen. Thankfully, though, yoga is also a compassionate practice. The practice encourages loving kindness not just toward others, but also toward ourselves. And that welcoming acceptance has been a saving grace for me.  

Another saving grace has been the discovery of a new community. Somehow, all that work in learning how to trust myself has created a more solid foundation for trusting others. And that’s been a very good thing for me. At the time I started practicing yoga, I’d been so self-sufficient for so long that I wasn’t even aware that I had any desire to belong. In fact, I don’t even think that I ever realized how important that might be for me or even that I might be missing it at all. But the arms of the yoga community are surprisingly long, and once I started practicing, they reached out to me in such a way that I willingly reached back. And now I’m forever grateful for that.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t hesitate to ask for help when I suddenly came upon that pole again. I had already stopped the car, and I’d even stepped out briefly to gauge the space. But once I was behind the wheel again, I just didn’t see that there was enough room. So, I idled, as I tried to figure out how else to make it by. And that’s when I saw two young men walking across the end of the alley. Without another thought, I opened my window and flagged them down.

“Excuse me!” I called out to them. “Would you guys mind helping me past that pole?”

I watched them speak to one another, before one headed in the other direction, and the other headed in mine.  

“Of course!” he said.

I figured this young man might stand a few feet in front of my car, so that he could motion me past; but, I watched as he patiently walked all the way over to my passenger side and then positioned himself right next to the pole. And so, I cracked open the window on that side, so that we could speak to one another. But before he could say anything, I suddenly needed to explain everything! For some reason, I had to tell him all about how I’d wound up in that alley and how I’d gotten myself stuck.   

As if sent from heaven above, this angel patiently listened, as I explained the back and forth of the evening. And then, just as patiently, he guided me past that pole. I cautiously followed his instructions, gently tapping the gas and slowly inching by. In the process of squeezing through, I had to make every effort not to close my eyes. And then, without much further ado, I easily popped out onto the other side!

“Thank you so much!” I cried.

There is something undeniable about the moment we become unstuck. There’s a sense of freedom that lifts the spirits in a way that I wish could last forever. And that’s how I felt, now that I was through to the other side. And I wanted that feeling to last just a little bit longer, and so I idled again. Unbelievably, I needed another moment in the alleyway! I was so filled with relief and so overcome with gratitude that I couldn’t bring myself to leave just yet. I looked back at the young man. He was still standing next to the pole, and so I put my hands in prayer and held them up to thank him.  

“You’re an angel from heaven!” I blurted out. “Bless you!”

He simply smiled in reply and then just nodded his goodbye. And then I watched him in my rearview mirror, as he turned and walked into the alleyway. Amazingly, he was willingly headed in the same direction that I’d just been so desperate to leave! And that made me realize that for him the alley wasn’t such a treacherous place. In fact, it probably wasn’t even a secret passageway! From how easily I saw him walking through, I knew that for him the alley had to simply be a shortcut to wherever it was that he was going.  

Maybe one day it would be the same for me, but not tonight. For tonight it was something more that I would have to think about later. For right now, it was time to go home. And so, I put the car in gear, stepped on the gas and turned into the freedom of the open road.

And then, without hesitation, I drove my new car as if I were captaining a boat. In the dark, the road was as big as an ocean, and the city lights were as bright as the stars. On lifted spirits, I sailed buoyantly home, thinking that maybe I could even catch a yoga class closer to my house in the morning. I’d see how I felt when I woke up. It was certainly a possibility, now that I was no longer stuck.