by Kris Bjerke-Ulliman
Transformations are real—that's a no brainer. Of course they're real. And they're powerful and life-giving. Once you awaken to this possibility—and the multitude of places you can find them—life changes.
At least mine did.
I had just started taking yoga for flexibility. I had never touched my toes even as a kid. I was always tight, couldn't play games every well, and I was always the last one chosen for a team. In my forties, I thought it was about time to loosen up. Three years later, I touched my toes!
This milestone might have been the end of my transformation if it had not been for an astute yoga teacher/massage therapist who wasn't just interested in physical transformation but emotional and spiritual transformation as well.
One day when I came for my massage, he had a really bad cold and suggested we just talk. I was disappointed but eager to speak about yoga. I had so many questions: How do you do it? When should you do this? Could I do this and this and this . . . or is that BAD? He patiently listened to every question.
The answer to my questions about postures, alternate nostril breathing, and balance came in the form of a question: "Do you know you wear a mask?"
"Of course," I said confidently. "Masks are essential for a proper, professional look . . . a protection, a polish you can't get by just being yourself."
The greatest lesson I learned from my parents was: wear your mask!
At Christmastime, we would drive through Wisconsin from LaCrosse to Waunakee, about a two-and-a-half hour trip to visit our relatives.
A few miles before we arrived, my mother, sitting in the front passengers seat, turned her head back toward me and barked, "Wake up, Kris. Put your shoes back on, and check your hair. You need to look good. I don't want them talking about how unkempt you are."
My mother also taught me how to survive a relationship break-up.
"If a boy breaks up with you, don't let him know that you are hurt. Don't cry in from of him—don't give him the satisfaction. Agree with him that a separation would be mutually acceptable and leave the room, with a smile. If you have to cry, do it at home. Never let him see you cry."
Numerous times I went through this process to survive the pain. Wearing a mask, you feel almost invincible above the emotional turmoil. You know what you will say and how you will respond, no matter the hurt and pain of rejection. Can you imagine a more proper, professional response with a built-in protection to a break-up than this?
It's easy to compartmentalize, but I have to wonder that it can't be that effective in the long run.
There's a fear of every encounter with another person and every situation . . . unless you have the upper hand.
But it only increases my anxiety.
Years later as I was slowing removing my masks I finally had the guts to ask my yoga instructor:
"I am grounded in wearing masks, in living a false identity, and constantly having worrisome thoughts. This is my world. How do I change?"
My teacher's response? "Oatmeal!"
I would love to tell you that a daily bowl of oatmeal completed my transformation. It didn't. However, eating a daily bowl of oatmeal was a simple, warm, nourishing act of love.
"It is not given to us to know which acts, or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward the enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing..." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Yoga, asanas, meditation, relaxation, essential oils, breathing practice, food choices, sleep, finding a teacher, leaving a teacher, studying sanskrit, taking yoga school with Russill Paul, hearing words of Andrew Harvey, or maybe—I thought—I should teach my own workshops on Centering Prayer and Making Peace with The Inner Critic. I've tried it all. And I place new tools in my tool bag as I can. The agents of change are there. All you need to do is find them.
I am really not sure what continues to stir up a complete transformation within me, or if there is ever a complete one. I do know that every day I walk a tightrope. Every small act I do will either strengthen, nourish and enlarge my transformation or it will weaken it just a bit.
Transformations become real when I begin to see that the millions of micro-transitions within every change that life offers . . . are never-ending. Whenever I get anxious, fearful, critical of myself, I have to reach down into my tool bag and pick out the most powerful transformation agents I have gentleness, kindness, love, which comes to me perhaps in something simple as a bowl of oatmeal.
About the Author
Kris Bjerke-Ulliman is an only child with two degrees in music and holds a Masters of Divinity. Married to a classical guitarist/house-husband Steve, she is surrounded by love and grace – most of the time. She is a pastor who serves two great congregations in central Wisconsin. BA. 1986, MM 1990, M.Div/ ordained 1998, Married 1989. Dies – daily.