One Wave At A Time
Sheila Hageman
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When I was a little girl, my sister and I spent time during the summer with our great aunt Margaret, whom we call Sissy, at her beach cottage. We could see Long Island Sound from her front porch.

We ate ice-cream cones from Marnick's, candy buttons from the penny candy store and grilled cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread that Sissy made. At the beach, we swam, built sand castles and dug big holes with our plastic shovels. Our favorite activity was collecting treasures from the sand. Peggy looked for seashells amongst the pebbly seashore, but I preferred to search for small pieces of smoothed down sea glass.

I liked the fact that the glass shards had once been sharp, but had been shined down to be as soft as velvet by the waves and then ended up hidden amongst the slimy seaweed. The powerful water had erased the cutting edges down into opulent gems.

Sissy kept a glass jelly jar on her wooden bureau filled with my treasure. All together like that they made up a many-colored salty rainbow of once dangerous pieces of glass.

I still love the ocean and visit whenever I can. Just to sit and watch those powerful cycles of waves upon the sand soothes my feelings of depression. I guess the water has always had a calming effect on me. The rising and ebbing of the tide releases me from my everyday struggles. The coming and going of the waves washes my feelings clean.

I am learning the same cleansing results through focusing on my breathing in my yoga class. My breath comes and goes just as the waves do with no effort from me. I focus on my out breath and my mind wandering stops and I am brought back into the present moment.

I stay with my breath, even when the tears come up when I'm in an asana, or pose. I stay with my breath. I submit to the grief that is brought to the surface. I respect my grief's overpowering strength to flow over me and erase my edges. Like the water to the glass.

I allow the depression to surge through my blood. It engulfs me like a tsunami.

I'm happily surprised when I am able to ride the wave and it lands me safely on my feet on my blue yoga sticky mat.

I do a forward bend and once again a wave washes over my head. My chest begins to heave as I decide whether I'll give into the latest feeling of depression or not. I choose to give in to whatever the water dumps upon my shore.

My mind wanders again to the fear that the crashing waves I can hear inside my head will become a scream of anguish. I'm afraid the sound will escape from my lips into the studio for all to hear. I can just see all the sweat-panted students turning to stare at me. And then I open my eyes and look around at them and say, "Who screamed? Was that me? Did I do that out loud?"

I knew I had, but I knew a normal person wouldn't do something like that. I open my eyes from forward bend, but nobody's looking. I never screamed. I'm just mind wandering again.

The wave has passed and now I see what's been left behind in the sandy foam.

Just my yoga mat and me.

I realize I'm thinking again and I kindly and gently return to my breath.

I focus on the in and out.

And the thoughts are washed away as I let my outgoing breath release me of all my thoughts.

In and out. Staying with my focus on my breath allows my mind a release from focusing on the thoughts that create and sustain my depression.

I don't beat myself up about having thoughts. I just notice them and then return to my breath.

I feel all smoothed out as we take our final pose -- like I'm sea glass on the beach and my depression is the seaweed that covers me. But excited children's hands can easily push aside the seaweed and reveal me. Reveal my beauty and happiness.

I once was sharp, but now I'm smooth.

I'm sure the glass jar still sits there today at Sissy's cottage, gathering dust. Sissy is now 91-years-old and the cottage has been closed for years.

I know my sea glass is still there -- all smooth and shiny. The magic stones will not be rebroken. But what about me? I know I can be chipped again into glassy fragments because I'm not kept safe and tight inside a glass jar.

I live, work and play in the streets of New York City, not on the sands of Long Island Sound. I am constantly exposed to cutting edges that sharpen my depression instead of soothe it. I know this. And I deal with this everyday.

I try to remember to simply return to the flow of my breath -- and to allow the slow process of grinding down time to work on my illness.

I do all of this by returning to my yoga practice -- unsure of what will be washed up next, but ready and willing to face it one more wave at a time.
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