Today is a holiday in France. It’s Fête du Travail, or more commonly known to us as Labor Day. Schools and most major businesses are closed, leaving the streets quiet, save for birds chirping and the many makeshift florist vendors selling bouquets of Lilies of the Valley on every corner, roundabout and metro exit.
I saw the first group of sellers in front of the metro at Chateau Rouge, where I was headed to a 12:30 yoga class. I didn’t think too much of it at that point other than it seemed odd to be selling blooms on such a gloomy, rainy day. But hey, it’s still spring and showers bring flowers, right?
Upon exiting in the 2nd arrondissement, I caught site of a few more and knew there had to be something to it. I just didn’t have time to really get involved with flower buying (in French) and demystifying traditions (in French).
Off to yoga I went.
The teacher—the amazing Amanda Dates—started us out in a restful savasana, dedicating the class to dharma, which in Sanskrit constitutes “order” or “meaning.” While laying on our backs, eyes closed, she asked us to recall all the work and labor we’ve done in the past year, and to honor ourselves by taking a break from it. To relax. She continued by encouraging us to think about whether this work we’ve been doing is our dharma; whether it has meaning and brings us true joy.
Let me stop for a second and say I hope I’m not breaking some cardinal yogi rule by attempting to relay these teachings on my blog—especially since there’s a very small chance I may mix up some of the details now that I’ve been ruminating on it for a few hours. But it really resonated with me and there can’t be any harm in sharing the wonders of yogic teachings, right? Isn’t that dharma itself?
Back to the mat, where I lay on my back, wondering whether the work I’ve been doing this year has been my dharma; whether it’s been serving me well, I decide that yes, aside from a few frustrations and pressures, my work is what I’m meant to be doing. It may be a selfish kind of work; a uniquely different sense of dharma than, say, filling someone’s soup bowl or raising money for earthquakes. But it’s the work that pays the bills and it just so happens to bring me fulfillment, all from crafting words into sentences that provide a sense of meaning or service—to myself, and those who read them. When I’m hustling to get editors to respond to my queries or transcribing an interview, maybe there’s a little less joy. But, as my Dad always says, “They don’t call it work for nothing.”
Then Amanda asked us to think about the areas in our life when we may be working hard, really laboring, but we may not have had much dharma or order. Where things don’t seem to be going as we hoped; or as we’d like to believe the way the universe has planned.
My mind, of course, goes to love. I just can’t seem to find It. Or It, rather, can’t seem to find me.
Am I not laboring enough? I wonder. Do I really need to try harder? Swipe right more than left? I live in freakin’ the most romantic city in the world. Am I supposed to just pop a squat on the banks on the Seine and bat my eyelashes at every Frenchman that walks by?
As she coached us out of this restful state and into downward dog, through various warrior poses and stretches and bends, she continued to bring us back to these two dharmas: the one that is working, so to speak, and the one that isn’t.
At one point, when we had our hands in prayer—or Añjali Mudrā as its known in Sanskrit—she urged us to press our palms together as hard as we could. She brought our attention to the small spaces in our palms that just don’t seem to connect. “There’s always room for more work,” she said. “Labor less, flow more.”
Labor less, Flow more.
Well, what does that mean? How do I get THAT?
Let’s see, I certainly know how to labor. I’m pretty dang good at multi-tasking and I keep list upon list—digital and in various notebooks—from which I find immense pleasure in crossing things off. I keep various Excel documents to help me organize my ideas, pitches and assignments, moving them around accordingly as they go from column A to C. I push, I follow-up, I get rejected and I try again. So far, it’s done me good. Why would I want to do less of it?
Because, I guess, it comes more naturally to me than flow. Flow is fluid and intangible. I can’t touch it. I can’t make it happen. It’s not a sure thing. I need more of it because it’s a challenge to attain. Because from flow, from embracing the ripple as opposed to the rigid, I can cozy up to the in between. I can find true peace and fulfillment—even in the dharma that’s not serving me yet. Even in the love I yearn for, but have yet to discover. Even in the disappointments and rejections and loneliness and WTF and why-not-me? With flow, one can combat the side effects of labor.
I took this with me as Amanda led us back through final savasana, and as I made my way home to my apartment through the misty rain, which was too soft to make a sound, but present enough to warrant recognition.
I exited the metro back up in Montmartre, this time to at least a half-dozen vendors selling white flowers. Some came in potted cups, others in small bundles.
I passed them by again because I still didn’t know their purpose, but I texted my friend Julie to glean some meaning.
“They are part of the May Day tradition—you give them to someone for good luck,” she wrote back.
My first thought was: Who could I give them to? And then, because I’m human: Would anyone give them to me?
Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I retreated back to my apartment where I ate an entire apricot tarte while googling May Day to learn more about its origins. Turns out it began back on the 1st of May in 1561 when the country’s then 10-year-old King Charles was given a bunch of the white blossoms to symbolize luck, happiness and prosperity. It’s continued ever since.
Never one to shy away from tradition, symbolism or, ahem, superstition—especially when it involves luck and happiness—I got up off my damn butt in the midst of writing this blog, put my sneakers on and left the house IN SWEATPANTS AND A SWEATSHIRT to buy myself some dang flowers.
On the way back, I walked fiercely through the gray mist, my potted Lily of the Valley plant now taking up the space between the palms of my clasped hands. There may always be room for more work and I’m going to continue trying not to try to find my flow, which in turn will likely bring me love, but having a little luck on my side can’t hurt either. Even if I had to give it to myself.