A Scary Story for Hallowe'en
I’ve been feeling misunderstood lately, and much longer than that. I’ve been called bossy, picky, and scary, and it seems wrong, like someone is projecting their fears onto me. I worked for years with someone who insisted on calling me Scary-Ann, a nickname that hurt every single time I heard it. It was intended as an insult, but on some advice from another so-called scary woman, I have decided to lean into it.
I don’t fear turning into my mother, but when my husband tells me that I’m scary, I flash back to my childhood. My mom has a very loud voice and very low tolerance for bullshit, and my brother and sister and I were never confused about who ruled the roost. She had us walking a very fine line, always, by refusing to set clear boundaries. As a teenager, I was more into drama, dance, and piano classes than the booze-fueled get togethers of the popular set, but in 11th grade, I finally got invited to a party with the cool kids. I was beyond excited. I wanted to be perfectly prepared in every sense. I asked my mom what time I should be home; in case this cool-kid thing took off, I wanted to be allowed to go to more parties. She refused to give me a curfew. She told me she trusted me. So, I stayed until the last car was leaving and got a ride home at 3am.
Here is how the morning after went:
Mom: You got home very late last night.
Me: You told me I could decide when to come home.
Mom: 3am is too late.
Me: I asked you what time I should come home! What time would you like me to be home next time?
Mom: Not 3am.
You can see how this was frustrating, but also empowering. The next time I was invited to a party, I came home at 1am, and got no comments in the morning. Yes, my mom was slightly terrifying, but she also taught me to make reasonable judgments, and something even more important: it’s a good thing to second guess yourself. Don’t settle into your story. Ask the question again, the next time.
The nature of judgment is that it is unfair. We have forgotten to question. As kids, we say “not fair!” constantly, because we don’t understand yet why some things are allowed and other things are not. The dichotomy is forced upon us relentlessly, the insistence that we distinguish between good and evil, friend and enemy, clean and dirty. That is how we are taught to be grown-ups. As kids, we always ask, “but why?”
As adults, can we tap into this childlike wonder and let go of judgment? Can we ask, “but why are we identifying this scary thing as bad?” Our fear protects us, but is that protection keeping us safe or is it keeping us fearful? Ask the question again. Attempt to do justice to the novelty of every situation and ask why you must choose whether it is good or bad. In a vinyasa class, ask yourself why persevering in the sequence is better than taking the break your body and breath are begging for.
You are not a hero or a villain, so you are not the one half of the things people say about you or the other. I am scary to some. It’s how they interpret and categorize my strength, and lately I find myself agreeing to lean into that. Tomorrow, I’ll be teaching asana as a powerful, moving meditation, and not letting my students tug at my heartstrings when I hear them struggling to catch a breath. I’ll be as scary as my own mean mommy now, telling them I trust them to call their own breaks. And that is the most challenging thing they’ll ever encounter in an asana class, because, to be really effective, it requires dropping our self-judgment away completely. We cling to these scripts because we find comfort in being able to discern good from evil, when in fact the truth is much more complicated than that. Dropping the story is as scary as standing on the edge of a cliff, arms wide, eyes shut. It’s also just as thrilling.