Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Listening to the Universe

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad

"It all went just too fast." This is something I have heard over and over again these last couple of weeks.  As I told the freshmen in my classes in August: don't blink, because before you know it the fall semester will be gone. 

And lo and behold, not only is the semester winding up, but 2017 is coming to a close too. 

In hindsight, I think I was really just talking to myself.  Where has the time gone?  Poof! One morning I woke up and I was 50 years old. 

In my head, I am still a 20 something year old trying to figure things out.  And then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and what I see doesn’t match up with how I perceive myself.    When did that happen?   Since when am I the mother of two pretty cool teenage girls?  Since when do I live in the same place for the last 17 years?  And how has my wonderful husband put up with me for almost a quarter of a century? 

Where has the time gone? 

50 is a big number, and while I wouldn’t say that I am having a mid-life crisis, now seems like as good of time as any to regroup.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that there is a lot going on in my world.  There is work and kid related responsibilities and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done.  What would happen, if I actually took my husband’s advice and just slowed down?  The fact that we are approaching Midwinter and the longest day of the year also seems to be a sign.  A time to slow down, sit and reflect, and light a candle or two over breakfast. 

Paul Theroux, an American novelist wrote that “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.”  Winter comes every year to this part of the world, and people have long used the abundance of darkness to reflect on their lives.  The Advent season is the time where Christians wait for the birth of Christ, who brings light to their world.  Hindus remember the victory of light over darkness during Diwali, and Hanukkah is literally the Jewish Festival of Lights. 

As with a lot of things in life, it often takes multiple messages and opportunities for me to really hear what the universe is trying to tell me.  This time I think I have it.  My personal reflection on light over darkness comes in finally finding a yoga teacher.  Not just someone I practice with, but someone who is there to offer me guidance and life lessons she has learned along the way.  It has taken 20 some years of searching, but I finally found her – and she was in Iowa all this time! 

My teacher, Jeani Mackenzie, is the founder of at the Davenport School of Yoga.  She’s been practicing yoga since 1974 and studied with one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world -  BKS Iyengar in India in 1977. 

I knew before I even met her that she was going to be my teacher, when in an email she asked me “What can I do for you?”  It just sounded right and it has been. 

In addition to relearning anatomy and how to offer adjustments for the physical poses in yoga, one of the components of the training I enjoy the most – and find the most difficult to stay on task with – has been to write in my journal each and every day.  This literally requires me to set aside thirty minutes for myself to sit and reflect on the day’s events. 

I used to be a prolific journal writer, and my profession as an anthropologist requires that I take notes on what goes on around me.  But, somehow I let my personal journaling fall to the wayside, much like I have forgotten my need to celebrate the little things in life. 

My journal entry several mornings ago reads, “Up before dawn.  The house is wonderfully silent.  Even Neo and Max are quiet as they go outside.  I took time to light candles, enjoy my morning coffee and marvel at the softness of kitty toes.  My house is warm, my family is safe, and I have more than what I need.  I can breathe and move and for this I am grateful.  Today I will try my best to remember to pause and breathe before I respond to others.  I can’t control much in my life, but what I can control are my reactions.”  

What a difference thirty minutes of reflection can make.  As Amit Ray writes, “Self-observation is the first step of inner unfolding.” 

As 2017 draws to an end, I wish only the best for all of us on this planet.  May we take time each and every day to find and acknowledge the divine in ourselves and those around us. 

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.