Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Patience is satisfaction

I've written in this blog before that I am not a patient person. This remains true. Recently, I came across a piece of yoga philosophy that explained that lack of patience stems from dissatisfaction. If we feel dissatisfied with the present then we impatiently want to run to the future, or retreat to the past. Now, this isn't necessarily an indictment of the present but rather a reminder to the impatient person that the responsibility is on us to be present.

Being present is weirdly challenging until we practice presence and reap the big fullness of it's vast moment. When I am present I am content. When I practice contentment, or in yogic terms, Santosha, I'm paying attention to all that is good and enough in this moment. I see small details and enjoy them. I find gratitude for what is. When my focus is on now there isn't attention to wander into what I perceive to be missing and what impatience propels me towards.

My own contentment is my own responsibility. What an empowering understanding.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bhakti and Identity Politics

Frequently, I find my social justice political self running up against my spiritual yogini self. It's a really good, generative tension, but it often leaves my head spinning.

Case in point, last month Jivamukti yoga focused on Spirit Guides as an entry point and deepening in all Jivamukti yoga classes. This is one of the many reasons I love Jivamukti yoga: it constantly pushes me. If I'm a student in class, I'm pushing up against some edge, like my overwhelming fear when a teacher instructs us into a handstand (generally in the middle of the room). As a Jivamukti teacher, I am constantly calming myself when panic emerges at the call to teach my students about Spirit Guides as they move through a yoga asana class. Seriously?! What do I know about Spirit Guides? How do I make this relevant to yoga asana? How do I make this relevant to their larger lives? How do I not feel like a total kook?

But the deal is that Spirit Guides appear in the texts informing yoga. They are a related idea and Jivamukti says consistently: go there. Go into the areas that challenge. Don't shy away from what feels too "out there." Figure out why it is a part of this tradition.

I know people who live in my midst who are members of cultures that do have a strong tradition of connections to ancestry and spirit. I am consistently working to be aware and conscious of how I'm incarnated this go round, as a white chick with a ton of privilege, so I can speak authentically. I can claim the experiences I know and also have deference for that which is out of my range.

In the midst of this, there are larger national conversations about identity politics, or really understanding the implications of walking through the world incarnated as a women, or a person of color, or another identity that is "othered." From my vantage point, based on what I've been taught by teachers in this field, it serves us all to listen to these experiences and not try to claim them as our own if they fall outside the range of personal lived experience. This sets up more honest exchange. Having an awareness of how one's identity shapes experience is part of teaching about appropriation, when people assume comfortable aspects of a culture or experience. I've long been concerned about appropriation as a white teacher of a traditionally Indian practice. Appropriation can go from disrespectful to dangerous when those with power (at this moment in time often "First world," wealthy white folks) claim aspects of say, Indian spirituality, while having no understanding of what it's like to live in brown skin in a largely light-skin-biased world, without feeling the implications of US foreign policy in Southeast Asia, nor the impact of living under a global economic system that consistently priveleges Europe and the US. Hence: appropriation. "I'll wear a bindi, because it's pretty, without understanding that many Hindu brown-skinned women face prejudice for wearing the same."

Jivamukti, while an overtly political yoga school (especially when it comes to animal rights), hasn't spoken officially on this topic (to my knowledge). I don't say that as a slight. I love my yoga school and tradition. I feel like my teachers are truly steeped in these teachings, are working towards their own enlightment, and liberation for all. Towards that end, they constantly teach us to step inside our stories to get out of our stories, meaning, understand all that we feel we are in this incarnation and then understand that we're so much more. We don't have to be bound by the rules and slights of this world.

With deep spiritual understanding, that is a profound and liberating message. I have heard what I feel is a watered down version of that message that sort of implies skipping the step of recognizing who each of us is in this incarnation. "Go ahead and wear the bindi because in the end we're all one!" sort of "color-blindness." In my mind, that limits all. That limits white people who are often blind to the experience of being raced in this world. For white people to become more empathetic, responsible members of the world, we need to listen. This type of color-blindness obviously is also limiting to people of color, who continue to feel like they aren't heard or respected.

I'm trying to wade through by being accountable to who I am now, with some level of understanding that we are all much much more.

Last week I went up to Woodstock for a Dharma talk with Sri Milan Baba Goswami of the Vallabhchya lineage. He spent much of the talk explaining Bhakti, a path of yoga to realize liberation through relationship. A bhakta is devoted to their isvara, an avatar of God that they relate to. In Sri Goswami's lineage, he is devoted to Krishna. Even within this devotion to Krishna, we try to identify our specific relationship. Some worship Krishna in his incarnation as a baby. Their worship for God has a parental care. Some worship Krishna as Radha, feeling a sense of devotion that you would have for someone you were in love with. There are a multitude of ways to realize this relationship. As we would in any relationship, reflexively we come to understand who we are in this partnership. Sri Goswami explained that bhakti yoga asks us to gain a lot of self-awareness so that we come into this relationship offering love with ever increasing clarity.

I've been thinking about bhakti as it potentially relates to identity politics and appropriation. I remembered back to last year when I knew I would be traveling to India to certify as a Jivamukti yoga teacher. I called my friend, Sheena, and Indian-American yoga teacher, scholar, and activist who also did her yoga training in India. I asked her how I could be a respectful student or what I should watch out for. She patiently related some of her experiences as a student in the Himalayas studying among a diverse student body. She gave me great suggestions and helped me understand some of the ways that the learning process might differ from what I was used to. At the end of the conversation, I thanked her and asked her how she felt. I care about her and really hoped that my behavior in studying yoga in India didn't trouble her. Or if it did, I wanted a chance for us to process. She said, "I think I needed you to ask me about this and I'm glad that you did. I feel good and I give you blessings on your journey."

I felt so heartened. It was really profound. Both she and I spend time thinking about how we can build respectful spaces for ourselves and others. We do this individually and have at times done this together as co-teachers and collaborators. We often think of identity politics and appropriation in academic circles and with lofty language. It was so beautiful to see that we can step into what we believe our politics, in a very real way, by trying to be honest and accountable to one another. By no means do I feel like that one conversation let's me "off the hook" to be aware of my privilege and how I move through the world. But it did teach me that trying to behave respectfully does not have to be complicated. It can be like this relational aspect of bhakti: seeing everyone as an aspect of the Divine. As such, trying to have clarity around who I am to them. Working towards openness and mutual respect in all our encounters.

As a white person, I try to think a lot about how I and other white people can do better to be empathetic to those who experience racism, classism, and forms of oppression. Again, the blurry space between my studies in yoga and my studies as an activist feels pretty fruitful. To the best of my ability, be honest about who I am and experiences that I understand. Acknowledge what's out of my range, what is a stretch, and where I am in relation. In this clarity, grow together.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Just a waitress

For about a decade, I was a waitress. Most of the time I really loved waiting tables. It always felt a little bit like contract work. Sure, you answered to a manager and had some requirements, but by and large you are paid directly by the customers so you have a bit of say so over what you earn. I loved figuring out how to serve each table best. I loved the puzzle-like logistics of moving so efficiently: put in the appetizer on table 2, start the tea for table 3, bring extra napkins now, fill the rest of the drinks. It's a far more complicated job than many appreciate, it compensated me pretty well, and kept me active and on my feet. In so many ways it is and was for me, a great job.

On more than one occasion we'd be a little slow. I might find myself in conversation with a table. I'd divulge some more personal detail about myself: I'm an activist, I write, I teach yoga. Whatever I said, often their response was, "Oh! I knew you were more than just a waitress!"

WTF.

I never figured out a savvy response to this. Every time I heard it I was so angry for so many reasons. My class consciousness raised it's ire. And my pride.

When I first started working as a teenager, I read bell hooks. I remember hooks writing specifically about blue collar jobs. She had plenty. She said she always did them to the best of her ability because doing work well is a good thing. She didn't dismiss blue collar work to only excel in white collar work, she simply did all work well.

Obviously, not everyone has the choice over the type of work that they can do. For me, her advice was formative. I read about Audre Lorde's early work experiences at a number of jobs and thought, "I'm going to really do this." Waiting tables was work that was available to me and it meant that when I wasn't at the restaurant I could devote my time to being a social justice activist. For the duration of my twenties, this is what I did.

I always wanted to say to these people, "But I am JUST a waitress. I absolutely am. Right now, I am waitressing. That is what I'm doing. I'm doing it well. There is no shame in that." And what about all the other people who in their classist minds were "just waitresses"? What were their markers? Different education? Different speech patterns or norms of interaction? None of these things make a person more or less intelligent and none of these things by any stretch make someone better or lesser than another. I wanted to say, "I knew you weren't just a lawyer!"

I felt so defensive about all the other blue collar workers out there. How did these people treat them? The "you're not just a waitress" customers always seemed so relieved that I was other than my current job, in their estimation. Why? What is so wrong with service work? In our economy, it's absolutely necessary.

In so many ways I was so grateful to work in the service sector. I had to move fast and develop a different skill set. I felt like it sharpened my mind and made me more agile. I honestly think everyone should work in the service sector for a time if not for the duration of their working years.

Now, when I do work I try to be wholly committed to that particular work. If I can be "just" a waitress, or yoga teacher, or writer, maybe I can also relinquish identifying with my work. I don't want to be circumscribed by how I earn my living and I don't want to do that to others. There's a strong likelihood that I would dismiss so many passionate, creative, talented people out there "just" doing their job.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Privacy and Trust: Franzen on Fresh Air

Yesterday I heard a brief segment of Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview with Jonathan Franzen. Franzen explained that as a writer he is a bit of an exhibitionist. He takes his privately lived moments and filters them through his imagination to create fiction. Increasingly, he simply shares his private, interior life publicly.

Gross asked, how do you share responsibly? How do you share your experience, as it's relevant and compelling to larger, shared experience, while having a sense of respect for those in your life implicated in your stories and while protecting your own sphere? I'm paraphrasing as I can't find a transcript yet but here's my take-away: we have control over what we share. We share what stimulates the collective imagination and clarifies individual and collective experience. We keep secrets. Our secrets give us identity.

If our every thought and perception was shared in a sense, we would cease to be. The boundary between what is known and unknown about us breaks down. In this instance, there is no longer intimacy. Intimacy comes from that deep sharing of secrets. When you fall in love, you start listing your previous homes and jobs and moments so that the other person is allowed in to your memories and past. Intimacy comes from the trust, the sharing of secrets. When everything is known, there is no longer the hope or possibility of creating trust and intimacy.

Mind blown.

Last Sunday I lounged on a raft in a pool and had a similar conversation with some friends. A few had read my blog and mentioned this to me (thank you, kind people!). I shared that this blog came into being when my fantastic web designer suggested and created it as a way to direct more traffic to my site. I began blogging so that folks might feel compelled to take a yoga class with me or join me on a retreat. And I found that I like blogging.

Given that I'm an entrepreneur, I have to market. Given that I teach yoga, host retreats, and a number of other services that have to do with creating a charged or meaningful space for another, it's helpful to share something of myself so that those working with me have a degree of comfort. I've self-identified as a writer since I was a teenager, which also pushes me a bit towards the exhibitionist camp.

Yet, with the increased presence of social media and our collective increased sharing, I worry. I still share (obviously). But I worry. I worry about what I'm relinquishing that I don't even see or know or recognize or value. I worry about the implications of my tellings on those in my life. I try to behave responsibly, ask those involved how they feel, and proceed from there, but still. I worry.

I wrote about this before after posing a similar question to Cheryl Strayed at a Free Library event in Philly. She said a lot, but my takeaways were: she's waited 20 years to be confessional about certain events, she also talks to implicated parties, and ultimately, they're her stories.

And I read them. I read them voraciously because they connect to my own experience.

I think about this too because I've spent plenty of time being repressed and surrounded by repression. I'm fearful of once more living without emotional honesty nor transparency. I err towards sharing because it feels safer to me. I think we can all use a bigger emotional vocabulary. I want emotional literacy to be cultivated and practiced. Some secrets control us individually and collectively. I want these closets opened, the skeletons excavated.

But I realize that much of this feeling could be reactionary. How do we cultivate balance? Share in a way that promotes transparency and honesty? Withold what is dear for privacy and mutual respect?

Strayed and Franzen have each made choices about what they share and what they guard. Something is guarded and those details are precious. These secrets are only given to those in close proximity where intimacy is created and nourished. It helps me understand how I can trust myself and be trustworthy to those around me: I give thought to what I release and thought to what I hold close. There's substance to me.

It makes me think about larger social media as well. What do we give away and what is it worth? I will happily tell you about my current work projects or how we can work together. The quieter details of my private life? You have to buy me dinner first.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sit nicely or create a seat as though for someone you love

In the past year I've frequently been asked to teach meditation. At first I balked. I felt unqualified as my own meditation practice is not nearly as consistent as I'd like it to be. But I have a policy: within reason, if asked to offer something then understand that it means that I am ready. This helps me stretch into studying and teaching areas where my knowledge might feel thin. I do have training in teaching meditation, it just doesn't feel like my strongest area. When asked, I decided to do the work and offer up what I could.



The process of teaching meditation has helped me tap into what I've been taught. This is why to be good students, according to yoga theory, we must teach what we know. It pushes us to engage with our learning differently. We have to really internalize the teachings to be able to communicate them to another student.

Recently, whenever I invite students to sit for meditation, I hear the voice of a teacher very dear to me, Lady Ruth. Lady Ruth teaches students to "place nicely" their bodies in yoga practice, their shoes when entering a building, their seat for meditation. I think this is her internalization of her teacher, Sharon Gannon's teaching about the word "asana" or seat of physical posture. Sharon Gannon teaches asana as our connection to the earth. When we stand in tadasana or mountain pose, our feet should be placed and engaged very specifically. Our connection to the earth should be considered, light, and respectful. This extends to every pose or asana. In sirsasana, or headstand, our head and forearms press the earth. They should do so with lightness and ease. Our connection to the earth should be generous and graceful. In Lady Ruth's characterization, it should be done nicely.


When I share this teaching, I hear myself say, "create a seat for yourself that's like what you would prepare for someone you love." It makes me think of my grandmother. If she were still alive I would offer her a very good seat. I would think of a seat that gave her support for her back and a nice cushion. I would want her to feel very comfortable.

There are different attitudes about meditation in regards to the comfort and importance of our seat. These various attitudes often stem from different approaches, and so many access points have great merit. However, for many meditation students the body feels very uncomfortable seated in meditation and this can be a distraction in entering quiet, steadied space. Creating a very good, steady seat can minimize those distractions and help a student on their practice of meditation.

I taught meditation in this way during last weekend's Mythic Beings Retreat. Students responded very well and I was glad. Students created very good seats and entered into meditation gracefully. They took care with themselves in practice. I heard them say or read their words about treating themselves the way they would treat someone they hold very dear. Many of us absolutely do not treat ourselves the way we would someone we love. It can be a powerful transition to offer ourselves that level of care. It informs those around us to treat us with respect as we do them. It sets a beautiful example to those who look to us of how to be honorable with yourself and those around you.



Of course, all of this held in balance. We could sway too far in any direction. The goal is to not become self-centered, only catering to our own perfect throne to meditate all day. The goal is to be in balance. Most of the people I work with, myself included, spend most of our days pulled in many directions. We often overlook our own needs, like good, balanced meals and sufficient sleep. Bringing these needs into focus and meeting them can increase our capacity to be equally attentive to those around us.

If I worked with many people who were very indulged, maybe we would do manual labor together to create balance. Wherever attention is needed, offer it.

It's incredible that such a simple teaching can have profound impact. What if we held ourselves in the world with the care we would offer and hope for the person we loved the most dearly? What if we loved ourselves dearly? What if we inspired those around us to treat us with care and respect? What if we treated others the way we treated ourselves-- with great reverence and consideration?



I think we can see all the good that would stem on a broad scale. But what if we zoom in again? I think of the young women I'm grateful to have in my life. Thanks to their parents and those in their lives, I think they are growing up knowing their worth. I want to affirm that in every step. I want to show them what it's like to be a woman who loves herself. I want them to know how whole and good they are and to walk through the world with that bearing.

And I'm grateful to my teachers for sharing this profound message with so few words.

Friday, August 28, 2015

O cabin, my cabin

April & May are bat shit crazy in our world and then, happily, June comes. June is still crazy, but within in June is the Solstice, the auspicious date of Kevin's birth. We try to get away on that date. One year we visited his Aunt outside of DC and saw ball games. Another year his parents took us to Baltimore for ball games. Twice we visited another Aunt out in the Olympic Peninsula and basked in all things Pacific Northwest. This year when asked Kevin said, "Let's get a cabin in the Catskills." 

I went to hunting. I found some really cheap stuff, which is usually where I press the magic confirm button, but there was something a little higher than my normal price range, not too high, but on a creek. I kept turning away telling myself I could pay less. And then I thought, "on a creek." There was something about it and something about that proximity to water.

I started dreaming about this one room cabin on a creek. And then I realized that I needed to just book it. So I did.



We arrived when it was raining. Our little cabin was sweeter than I had anticipated given the photos. It was also only a 15 minute walk to downtown Woodstock. I kept asking Kevin, "Could we live like this?"

Right now, the answer is no. We would have to figure out how to work remotely. Or how to become independently wealthy by running landscaping and yoga businesses so we could retire. Unlikely.

We've both lived in Suburban and Urban environments but never Rural. We keep feeling drawn.


On our first full day of Kevin's Birthday Adventure we ran off to Kaaterskill Falls. These falls are beautiful and epic and were quite empty on a random Monday. We opened up our books and hippie snacks (tamari almonds! kombucha! spicy pumpkin seeds!) and stayed awhile.


Back "home" at our cabin was equally delightful. Meditations by the creek. Swimming in said creek. Hikes. More reading. Kevin kept the coffee brewing. We lit incense to keep the mosquitoes at bay and just because.


I had one other adventure in mind: The Blue Hole. This is one of those things of yore-- a swimming hole that is pretty legit off the grid. You have to triangulate blog posts. It's a bit like a scavenger hunt. All good things ask effort.

We set out, got lost, bickered, recalibrated, and ultimately found it. 


One must be pure of heart to enter the clear waters of the Blue Hole.

I would tell you where it is but I think that would deny it's treasures. Search it out. You'll find it.


The water was shockingly cold from its mountain spring source but so refreshing. We lounged on the big, flat, sun-warmed rocks. Kevin jumped in a lot. I tentatively put feet in. We hiked around and watched small waterfalls skid off the vertical rocks.


Back at our sweet little cabin we tried to concoct how to make a life like this-- on a creek, quiet, and small. A village in walking distance. We're still not sure, but we know that we feel really good within it.

Kevin took this photo of me taking it all in. I look so much like my grandmother here. Something about the stance, my body. She was born in Johnson City, Tennessee, birthed my Mom in Chattanooga, and raised her and my Uncle on a suburban farm in Atlanta, GA. Maybe there's something in frequent barefoot walks that I see in myself and her.


Until we figure it out, we keep living softly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dates with my Self

May is stupid busy in my world. Landscaping is in high gear so I'm working hard to keep up with billing and scheduling let alone covering both Kevin and my domestic tasks. The house is a mess. Groceries are bought sporadically.

I also Officiated 9 weddings last May, which added a new level of chaos. I would find myself on an hour long commute to some country wedding venue pounding almonds because I hadn't had time for a proper meal. Yet, when I faced a couple making this beautiful commitment to one another, I was present.

My activist life often feels in full swing in May. There are events that I want to attend and support however I can.

So I was shocked this past May when I found a previously fully booked day suddenly wide open. I called Kevin in a bit of a panic. "What do I do?" I mean, I had so much to do but I was overwhelmed and as such, I didn't know how to organize myself.

He said, "Take yourself on a date to Asbury Park." 

Whuh...?

It sounded revolutionary. He said, "Take yourself to Asbury Park. Sit on the beach. I would go with you but I have to work to stay on schedule. Take your laptop and if you feel like it, do some work from a cafe."

But. "But won't you resent me for doing something fun while you have to work?" I asked, because I would. I'm a bad person.

"No. This is good for you. I do things that are good for me. Do what's good for you."

(Note to self: don't resent Kevin for taking care of himself.)

I did it. It was amazing. I got myself to the beach, which was empty as it was a weekday in May. I laid out my blanket and book with lofty aspirations to read and promptly fell asleep. I woke up to the alarm I had set to remind myself to feed the meter. I decided to go to the cafe, eat lunch, and work from my laptop. I did. And then I went back to the beach and ran. And I found a massage clinic in town and got a massage. And I took myself out to dinner at a Thai spot on the way home.

And I remembered that I used to do that. I used to jump on the train as a teenager and wander, notebook in hand, through Philly, through Brooklyn, wherever. 

But I forgot until Kevin reminded me.


About a month ago I spotted August 18 on my calendar. It caught my eye because it was a day that was blessedly empty. I work for myself and I usually never have a day off. I have lighter days where I might only work with one client but it's pretty rare that there's a day where I'm not scheduled at all. This was an unscheduled day.

I touched the paper of my calendar fondly. I vowed to protect it.

I did. I received a few requests to book a yoga session or a meeting or a something on that day and I said a beautiful word. I said, "No." I didn't explain. I just said, "no," and scheduled them on a different day.

Oh, sweet, cherished day.

I slept in on Tuesday August 18. I was a bit backed up and did have to get groceries and a few other things in the morning but by 2 pm I hit the road. I took myself to Atsion Lake, where I had vowed to take this second date with myself. 

As I approached the lake the beach looked EMPTY and I thought, "Score!" I rolled up to the kiosk to pay my $5 car fare and the young woman pointed to the sign that said, "No swimming on Tuesdays." 

"I checked your website and it didn't say anything about no swimming days. I came from 40 minutes away." 

She did seem sympathetic. "You can go to Bass River to swim."

OK. 

It was my date with myself. I should be spontaneous to show myself a good time. 

The trek from Atsion to Bass River wound me deeper into the Pine Barrens, through Batso Village, and then into another state park. Man, I formally take back all the smack I have talked on New Jersey. The Pine Barrens are stupid pretty. The ground was soft and strewn with pine needles. Wild blueberries grew on the shoulders of the road. There was water peaking through the tree trunks for miles. Gorgeous.


I made it to Bass River park and joined a solid percentage of the working families of New Jersey with small children. This is a super affordable day trip as all the park only charges $5 per car. Packed cars of extended families unloaded picnic gear as they grilled and watched the kids charge into the water. 

I found a spot at the fringe of the shade and opened up my blanket. With the same ambition I pulled out my book and then promptly fell asleep. I woke up and watched the water. Then I watched the sky through the pine needles. Then I watched my fellow revelers: those sitting quietly while a baby slept on a blanket, those feeding excited kids hot dogs, those sitting and talking while digging their feet in the sand.

I swam in the lake and returned to my blanket. I sat with the thoughts that I had time to think.

At sunset, I wound back through Batsto Village and the wilds of the Pine Barrens. 

August 18 is a goddamned holiday.

I'm now looking at other blank spots on my calendar. I feel tender towards them. I feel tender towards myself and my need for quiet, private, unstructured time. I'm guarding these days. I'm caring for myself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Enough

Last Thursday night I sat in a circle of women beginning the task of writing. We were at the opening writing session of the Mythic Beings Retreat that I co-facilitate with poet, Caits Meissner. A participant, Jean, had found us via a Google search. I didn't know Jean yet, but I was looking forward to this weekend with her. As we began responding to some of the sample pieces Caits had offered, connecting to our overarching theme, Jean said, "this makes me think of that idea of enough. Am I enough? Is this enough?"



I stayed present for the exchange. Later that night I laid in bed and remembered the silent retreat Kevin and I attended this past January. I was in such awe of what I could realize and resolve when I had the space to not respond. An unexpected mantra that came and stayed with me during that weekend rotated around the word "enough."

I am a picky vegetarian, which is the worst. I wish I wasn't this way and am trying to just be grateful and open to nourishment. Travel has helped soften me. I've realized that I will ignore a growling belly if it means I get to go somewhere great. I've spent many hours and missed meals on buses roaring through some backwoods part of some country that enticed me.

On the silent weekend, meals were taken care of for the participants so we could just meditate and be silent. (Thanks!) The institute's staff rang a gong when it was meal time. They wrote out what was served on a dry erase board so folks could make educated choices based on allergies or preference.

I read that there would be hummus wraps. I silently groaned. (Get it?) And roasted parsnips. Parsnips? There was a farm on-site. I figured they were off loading their stock of winter root veggies.

I tried to talk myself down. "You came here considering that maybe you would fast. If you don't eat this meal it will be fine and was what you originally thought you would do!" Yeah, yeah, I responded to myself. "If you were on a 7-hour bus through the Amazon right now you would totally forgo a meal and happily." This is true.

I stood in line, collected my hummus wrap and parsnips. In case you've never practiced silence for a sustained period of time let me fill you in something: food tastes better. This is real and true. It's because you pay greater attention to it. You are quiet and still and you taste your food. You chew more thoroughly.

Even if I didn't have the help of silence-induced heightened-flavor, the wraps were good. As I ate my wrap I thought, "I want a second but there aren't many. I won't get another! I won't have enough."

The same wraps I rolled my eyes at before I took a bite.

I told myself to eat what was on my plate before trying to hoard all the wraps. I took a bite of parsnips. Yo. Roasted parsnips are delicious! What was I thinking?!

As I went to town on my portion of parsnips I looked up and saw that some fool was taking the last of the parsnips! Again, "I won't get any more! I'm going to be hungry until dinner! I won't have ENOUGH! WAH!"

The beautiful piece of silence is that no one else could hear the absolutely absurd crisis going on in my head. And the gift of silence is that I had to hear it and self-soothe. I kept returning to the rational part of myself, the part that knew I did not need to eat three meals to be OK, that I could fast for some time and be fine (maybe even better for it), and that I had enough.

As I calmed down the chef arrived from the kitchen with a heaping, steaming platter of roasted parsnips.

I was able to get a second helping.

I sat with this experience in meditaton. My panic all revolved around not having enough. I wouldn't have food that I liked or at least not in sufficient quantity. Others had what they needed but not me. The feeling was real but it was not at all based in the reality of that present moment. It was amazing to see that lingering feeling when reality proves that I absolutely, 100% have enough. Why can't I feel that way?

As I meditated that afternoon I breathed in, "I am enough" and breathed out, "This is enough." I realized that scarcity mentality leaked into my experiences. Another meditation retreat was happening during our silent retreat and they took the big exciting meditation room (yes, there can be exciting meditation rooms!) with the towering golden Buddha. I had a slight internal whimper at that realization. "This won't be as great if I can't get enlightened in the impressive room." And then hearing it. Really?

This is enough.

As I remembered how enough my experience was, I encountered unanticipated treasures like a labyrinth and a stone bench hidden in a bamboo grove. More than enough.



I am enough.

The dissatisfaction with everything around me ultimately stems from that relationship to myself. The constant barrage of "I don't do enough, I'm not good enough, I'm not pretty or smart enough, I'm not enough." Even if I don't feel conscious of these thoughts all the time, I catch glimpses of them here and there. As I meditated on "I am enough" it gave me such permission to just be. It gave me such permission to just experience the space and time around me without expectation. It freed me.

I shared this story last Saturday on retreat and acknowledged Jean for reminding me of this moment. It resonated with so many participants. I'm so glad that Jean helped me connect to that teaching because it reminded all of us to free ourselves up to be in the experience we were creating together. The experience of being and having enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Wild New Jersey: Recap of Mythic Beings 2015 at Seven Arrows East Homestead

Last year Caits and I co-facilitated our first Mythic Beings Yoga & Writing Retreat for women in Vermont. The weekend wound up being a big creative love fest between the participants. (On the last night I tiptoed down the old farmhouse to ask those dancing in the yoga studio to lower the music a bit. When I cracked the door I found them all slow-jamming like seventh graders at a Middle School Dance.) It was pretty exceptional. Caits and I nodded enthusiastically at each other when we reconvened to answer, "Do we do it again?"

Yup.

I went to work scouting out a location. I found a rambling old mansion on the Navesink River in New Jersey. Minutes away from sandy beaches with an organic farm on the property. What?! Jersey is so weird and amazing. As the location was only a ferry ride from NYC, Caits joined me.

I picked her up at the ferry bracing both of ourselves by saying, "It may not be as cool as it seems online."

Nope, it's cooler.


Booked and done. This past weekend we all wandered into Seven Arrows a little dazed at this magical space. 



Though I was busy prior to the retreat fine-tuning class plans, creating playlists, handling the retreat accounting, and tending to all the other last minute bits prior to a retreat, I had an overwhelming compulsion to brew iced tea. I thought of the porch at Seven Arrows, with it's lacey wrought iron featured above, and thought, "we must sit and sip!" Even though it was a complete stretch and likely not worth my time to add another chore, the morning of the retreat I taught 6-7 am yoga at my local studio and rushed back to brew tea while I finished packing and fielding emails.

Caits and I arrived on-site early to greet our participants, orient them in the house, and serve them tea. There was much relaxed sitting and sipping.

We themed this retreat "The Elemental Body" to guide our inquiry into yoga stories, yoga practice, and our own creative expression. Initially, I was a little stumped as I began looking into fodder for our weekend. I knew Ayurveda, yoga's sister science, relies on the elements. I began to think of how earth, air, water, and fire appear in yogic stories. As I sat with this concept I realized a huge amount of stories that connect directly as well as the subtle body and chakras. There were riches to mine through as Caits and I allowed the sessions to gain focus.


We took twice daily yoga practice on the porch, facing the river. The breezes were cool and fantastic. On Friday, our day assigned to water, it also rained a bit, which felt cooperative. The other days were clear and perfect. Many participants used free time to dash to the beach and swim in the ocean.

I just jumped off the dock into the river.



Most of our writing sessions took place in this little upstairs sitting room. After convening to think through prompts, questions, and sample pieces, we had some break out writing time. During one of our break outs I sat at an outdoor table by the on-site farm. Some very friendly/nosy chickens joined me.


In addition to writers we had participants who self-identified in a myriad of ways. Lauren mainly works in graphic arts so she spent a lot of time drawing. There were participants who didn't identify as artists but came anyway to connect to their creative selves. Some came with goals, like to work on memoirs or specific pieces, and others came without a clear agenda.


While we crafted our pieces, Lulha, a 7-year-old who lives on-site with her care-taker parents drafted her Zombie apocalypse plan. Well thought out and inspiring to us all.



As with all our retreats, we build in unstructured time to provide the opportunity for each individual to create the experience they need. Some wandered to nearby downtown Red Bank to take in all that is weird and cool. Some sat by the river and answered big questions. There was lots of lingering over lunch, reading, napping, farm visiting, orchard wandering, hiking, and river swimming.


On our final night we honored the fire element with a bonfire and sharing. Sharing is always optional and some just sat and listened (like me!). It was a great opportunity to get feedback on what had been generated throughout the weekend. Also, a big moment to bask at the creative talent of these fine women.




Sweet Candra found this gem of the Dirty Jerz on site. (She also wrote this incredible reflection on her experience as a retreat participant.) It's such a rare gift to be able to witness people willing to create health, vitality, and creativity-- to not shy away from that call. I'm grateful for their presence and willingness to create with me. These experiences remind me: press pause. Create. Be. It's vital.



This past weekend I wrote:

I'm realizing that
         I love you
         I love us
because we make quiet
we turn off
        & away
from manufacture
d noise
we turn toward
         the stillness
water, air, leaves
I'm realizing that
I love life
         with you
         because we ask space
         & time
         of each other
we wander down soft paths
safe in our awareness
we spread a blanket under
firs & sit
drink water
nap
and write the thoughts we
have time to think
I'm realizing
         that we chose this
         we chose a life
lived between the branches

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Jivamukti Satsang in the Hamptons

Before our group left to train as Jivamukti teachers in India, we were connected online through a Facebook group. Early on, a fellow trainee who I had yet to meet contacted me about flights. I offered what help I could and then of course stalked the petitioner. It was Abby, a yoga studio owner in the Hamptons. I've never been to the Hamptons so my idea of the area was Gossip Girl on the beach. If this was true, I guessed Abby wouldn't spend much more time speaking to me once we met in India!

And I was so wrong. I met Abby once we arrived at Govardhan. Warm, earthy, and an authentic yogini. Abby told me about her training, her Thai massage practice, and then after our India training concluded, her apprenticeship with Lady Ruth. She was generous in her sharing of the commitment and study demanded by our teachers. 

Abby and I set plans to work together again. She saw my regular offerings and invited me to give a yoga and creative writing workshop at her studio over the summer. Her fantastic assistant, Allie, designed the flyer below.


Beth and Kevin came up with me to the Hamptons as there's a thought that we might offer a yoga retreat there in the future. Just like Abby was beyond what I expected, so was the area. I don't know much about the shoreline north of New Jersey but I imagine clapboard houses and grey shingles. In some ways, this met my fantasies. The area is beautiful. In truth, not a lot of beach front is publicly accessible so the ideas around exclusivity have truth. However, there are a lot of families, like Abby's husband, who have roots in the area that predate its fame.

Abby's husband Skip has lived in the area for generations. He knows the inlets, bays, where to find the best clams, and how to predict storms. They have a quiet haven on the bay with private beaches only steps from their front door. In this way, this area of the Hamptons reminded me a bit of the Catskills. I think it might be the shared distance from the art and intellectual stimulation of New York. I love encountering vibrant culture in such a scenic respite.

The town also displays this mix of history and escapism. When we got into town proper we found a circus! Kevin flipped.



My sister-in-law saw this photo on instagram. She claims it haunts her.


JUGGLING BOWLING BALLS. (They talked a lot of smack on Cirque de Soleil!)


And a little more creepy clown for my sister-in-law.


The public beaches require that you pay $25 to park your car for the day. Definitely not super accessible. A lot of beach front is privately owned by country clubs or individuals. Unsurprisingly, the beach was not super crowded.


And across the bay, Skip and Abby's quiet retreat. Land that has been lived on by Skip's family for generations. The additions they've built were designed to feel like a ship-- long, wood-paneled hallways and hidden doorways. I love it. They are true artists.

I offered my workshop to Abby's wonderful community. A yoga studio should be a sanctuary to those in it. Abby's space felt that way-- the conversations between students demonstrated history and familiarity. And such a treat to me-- Aaron, another fellow Jivamukti trainee, came to see Abby & me & take the workshop! Jivamukti India Satsang in the Hamptons!


Abby and I are concocting more ways to collaborate and mutually support. Interested in getting to know this lovely corner of the world? Stay tuned! We're making space!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The gift of not being able to do yoga

Yoga asana, physical practice, is a rare creature that has held my attention since I first encountered it. I get bored and lose interest in plenty of pursuits, but even though my energy and enthusiasm doesn't remain consistent, I do my best to stay attentive to practicing yoga.

Certain aspects of yoga feel more approachable than others. For example, I feel very motivated to practice the yamas, or behavioral considerations with others and niyamas, or ways of restraining my own behavior. I'm drawn to these behavioral aspects because I am a hot mess and I want to be in less conflict with myself and those around me. I'm really grateful that these prescriptions exist and that their application helps me be calmer and more closely aligned with those in my midst.

I'm significantly less motivated to practice meditation and even the asana always feels challenging to me. I'm not a person who is naturally adept at the physical practice. Some say this is at least in part attributed to past karmas, or past actions. These would be karmas I've created since birth as well as past lives, if you buy that. I kind of get this in a material way. I descend from a number of WASPs. Those folks aren't known for expansive movement. They tend to waltz or maybe do the Charleston. My Dad is incredibly tight and stiff. His Dad was incredibly tight and stiff. These are karmas. Remember-- karmas aren't necessarily good or bad, they just are. I descend from tight folks and as such, I'm tight. It's not a sentence, but it is a reality.

In time, I am finding more mobility and it feels great. This is also an opportunity in any incarnation-- to move through past karmas and feel less bound by them. 


Certain asanas still feel truly elusive. I spoke to a friend and student recently who talks often to his colleagues about "doing the set-up." This refers back to the time he spent setting up for sirsasana, or headstand, without any real belief that he'd ever ascend into the inversion. As the teacher instructed, he continued to press into his elbows and wrists, pull his shoulders from his ears, and engage his core. He now practices sirsasana regularly, but the full expression of the pose came as a surprise. He did the set-up and released the fruits of his actions. I don't know if he knows this, but he arrived at a very central instruction from The Bhagavad Gita.

There are so many poses in my own practice where I can only do the set-up and do my best to release expectation. I thought the other day about how many years I've remained unable to reach poses that so many find without struggle. And then I thought about how impatient I am. I am incredibly impatient. My Dad is incredibly impatient. Recall the karmas? Maybe I am being motivated to stay engaged in the practice, but kept grounded, in part as a practice in patience. Maybe it's not about the asana. Maybe it's about my own ability to be present.


Kevin heard an interview recently with a yogini who feels the physical emphasis on the practice is misleading. She advised students to practice asana until they felt calmer and at that time direct more of their energies towards meditation and other limbs of yoga. She said that in some ways these limbs are all portals. If we get stuck being obsessed with the body, we won't integrate other aspects of yoga. We'll self-defeat in a way, though no effort is wasted. It just probably means another cycle around the karmic wheel to then extricate from the over-involvement with the material.

This feels really self-affirming to me. "I'm so highly evolved! I can't do a lot of the physical so aren't I better as I focus elsewhere!" But completely untrue. I aspire to an understanding offered by Kevin's yogini. In reality, my struggles with asana are multi-dimensional. They keep me interested in asana but also interested in other limbs where I feel more adept. I do hear what this teacher said, as told to me by Kevin. This yogini (and I refer to her as this because he couldn't remember her name) said that as we progress spiritually, our energy is needed. Strenuous physical exertion is at times a misapplication of our energies.

Again, I'm far from there. I should still safely sweat. Not even that settled down. Asana serves.

I see her point though. The teachers that I often turn to-- Radhanath Swami, Ram Dass, Krishna Das-- they don't practice a lot of asana. I think they're perfectly capable! Radhanath Swami said his sirsasana is pretty steady! But their energies are turned in a different direction. They move, walk, swim, and engage but they don't need to do advanced contortionist asana.

I'm grateful for the path of this practice and how it can engage each of us wherever we are. For now, I will continue to sweat and strive and attempt to release expectation. I'll work on being, whether it's upside down or seated quite still.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Writing Yoga and Moving Words

A few years ago, I drove down the highway into Philly and had to pull over. I had a blast of insight: a yoga workshop with writing! And not only the idea (which is by no means original) but how to structure it: vignettes of movement narrated by a story. Meditation. Partner work. A related prompt and time to respond to it. Swapping writing silently with the yoga partner. Providing constructive feedback. Rinse. Repeat.

I've offered iterations of this intial idea several times in many locations. It's such an interesting thing-- these workshops don't fill as quickly as say, a retreat to Vietnam. Yet, when studios or students contact me, it's probably the first offering they request.

One of my students and friends finished her senior year at Smith College. She invited me upto Smith to offer a yoga and writing workshop during the VegFest conference on campus. (This friend is also a badass animal right's activist.) It was such a treat to head back to Northampton. I hadn't been since I was an undergrad student at nearby Mount Holyoke. The town had changed drastically and yet I still knew it intimately. I brunched at a Smith dining hall with my friend and other students. I remembered doing the same many, many times with Smith friends during my stint in the Pioneer Valley.

We had a beautiful, intimate workshop at a research station on Smith's campus. This workshop delved into tonglen meditation, activism, and used sample poems by Mary Oliver, Aracelis Girmay, and Naomi Shihab Nye, to aid participants in cultivating the internal reserves to be activists, the necessary compassion, and insight.


I was invited to offer this workshop again in Philadelphia at The Wellnest. This workshop focused on ego, fear, purpose, and transcendence as illuminated by yoga poses and related poems. After feeling the poses in their own bodies, participants read related pieces by Denise Duhamel, Theodore Roethke, Wendell Berry, and TS Eliot. Looking through my own notes from that evening, I found the following snippet from my own response to a prompt:

When it rains the wndow remembers our fingers drawing constellations in steam.
When it rains the door blows open and the neighbor's cat claims the corner sofa.
When it rains my skin is humid and unapologetic.
When it rains the earth sucks and receives.

My feet tattoo soil.
My steps stain the floor.

Until the wind blows the rain sideways and all trace of me is gone.


I'm grateful to have received another invitation to offer one of these workshops. I met my friend, Abby, while training in India. She's a beautiful human, yogini, and director of Hamptons Yoga and Healing Arts. The workshop will be Saturday July 25, 1-4 pm. For those considering enrolling, Abby has offered to help with housing. I can help with rides from Philly and my friend and fellow India trainee, Aaron, is willing to take folks with him from NYC. Email me if you would like to coordinate rides. 

Still curious about the relationship between yoga and writing? My Mythic Beings Retreat collaborator, Caits Meissner, and I wrote companion pieces on just this topic! (Psst! Come with us on retreat!) Read Caits' piece on how yoga can make you a better writer on MindBodyGreen. My friends at Rebelle Society published my piece on writing informing yoga. (This was my first piece that generated fan mail! Rush!) 

I'm steadily in awe of the space yoga creates in my body, breath, and mind. In that space, there is creative generation. There's healing. There's wonder.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flickering

I sat down to write one of those "my apologies and here are my excuses" pieces to explain my absence. But that's not very interesting reading.

My writing presence has been a flickering light. I get flashes of ideas. There are some stories and thoughts that need time and space to be teased out. Last week I spent a few glorious days in a tiny cabin by a rushing creek. I considered bringing this laptop as a keyboard moves at the pace of my thoughts. I thought I might write. I decided if I was going to write, I would have to be patient with my own fingers, their curl around a pen, and it's contact with a page.

And I didn't write.

I see that my last post is dated March 30. At that time, I was slowly untangling my experience of training as a Jivamukti yoga teacher in India. I'm still engaged in that process and likely will be for some time to come. Since that time my teachers have trained students in upstate New York and again in Costa Rica. Each time I see that another training is beginning or concluding I sort of gasp and inwardly sigh. I'm so happy for those students and slightly jealous. I imagine where they are in their process. I hope that they're relishing every delicious moment.

Since March 30 I've worked to help Kevin keep Rooted Landscaping humming along. And it is. Each year we feel increasingly organized and calm about running a business, which is sort of miraculous. Steady improvement. Constant attention to work-life balance. Kevin is enjoying the projects he's taking on. His customers are impressed and so happy to have him make their home environments beautiful and inviting.

I've married a lot of people. Like, a LOT of people. I did a few weddings in April. I think the end tally was that I married 9 couples in May. I wed a few more couples in June. I teared up several times. I felt honored to share in those precious moments.

I've taught a lot of yoga. And I try to stay present to being a student first. When you teach a lot, it can be challenging to make time for your own practice. I have a lot of private students right now and I really get why they schedule private sessions-- you're accountable! Each day, I make my schedule for when I'll practice yoga, run, and or swim. Obviously, I need to stay present to my own health. I also need to be accountable to my own practice to stay invested and inspired in ways that serve my students.

And I play with our cats a lot. I'm pretty enamored of George. He's long and slinky and black and sort of a badass. I think he's bullying his sister, Estelle, but she's more up front by hissing in retaliation and standing up to him. I love them both, chastise George very slightly, respect Estelle a ton, and still find myself drawn in by George's wiles. He reminds me of Laz when Laz was at his full strength. George is terrorizing baby rabbits and mice. He gives me gifts.

We're sort of shifting Estelle's name to Daria, because that's her doppelganger. Estelle is so over everything, except Maurice. She loves him. Maurice is just ridiculously cute. I don't even understand his cuteness. It's almost excessive.

Their happiness makes me really happy. I love seeing them together, snuggling, or bathing one another. I love to watch them run around and chase each other. I love the way their fur gets silky while they bask in the fresh air, the clarity of their eyes, their strength and alertness. I love their health and vigor. I am reminded why we should care for other creatures.

I've attended to a lot but not my writing. I am working to change that. I'm working to shed steady light on voice.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hips, Honorifics, and Consciousness


This photo shows one of my favorite moments in teacher training. I have a weird lack of space in the front of my right hip. Forever, I thought my hips were just tight. They sort of are but they sort of aren't. Yoga isn't a magic bullet to cure all, but it does provide great information to get more specific. My practice has shown me that my left hip is actually pretty healthy. On the right side, the piriformis muscle spazzes when I'm stressed and there's some type of tight block in the front of the hip. Because of this, I can't get sufficient depth in forward folding, which shows up again in preparing to jump back to caturanga (or not as the case might be) and again when drawing the knees into the chest for sirsasana.

Often, I feel self-conscious about these type of limitations. I'm a teacher! I should be able to do all the yoga! But that's nonsense. I don't know that anyone can do "all the yoga." Even if someone can do a lot of asana, the physical poses, more likely than not they're challenged elsewhere, say, by meditation or using the yamas in their interactions with others. If any of us are not challenged by an aspect of yoga, than it's likely that we're not growing.

While in training, I decided to not identify with the story of my limitations. Limitations are teachers. I decided to offer them up, expose them, and detach from feeling like they're a judgment on "me." I had come so far to study. Why protect my petty fears?

So I raised my hand and asked Teacher David to help me with this blockage. And he did! I have a prescription of laying on a chair for 20 minutes a day to soften up the front of my hips. Then, 100 breaths in pascimottanasana. Who knows when or if this weirdness will ever open up. The bottom line is for me to be persistent and consistent in working it. That's my job and that is an illuminating process.

You may have noticed that I'm trying to refer to David Life as "Teacher David." I'm seriously not trying to be a tool. Here's another thing I learned from him and the rest of the faculty: use honorifics with your teachers. Not for them. For you. All of these practices help us become receptive. I could be very casual about my teachers and with them but I may listen less closely when they teach me. A funny thing happens when you address someone formally. You sit up straighter. You listen when you speak. The practice of addressing him with an honorific that he likes is that I feel like his student and I feel like I'm showing him respect.

I know that in the West some of us cringe over this type of behavior. It can feel like ceding uncomfortably to authority or shedding some level of ownership over ourselves. My take is that it's pretty nuanced. I'm still overall anti-authoritarian. I still feel strongly that I need to be responsible for myself and take charge of my own life. But these aspects of myself can co-exist with deep respect for a teacher and a receptivity to their teaching. I don't have to sign away the deed to my house and all my earthly possessions. But I can listen. I can be respectful. And I'm better for the act.

Another piece of Teacher David's teaching: bring consciousness where there is unconsciousness. This teaching came one morning at breakfast. He asked those of us at the table if we knew why we were completing an assignment called "morning pages." Morning pages are the practice of writing what you're thinking as soon as you wake. When we were given the assignment we were told that it's good to wake thinking of the Divine, but that was all. We chanted all the time and often before sleep. I often woke with the chants on my mind, which felt pretty close to thinking of the Divine!

We all admitted that we really didn't know why past what we'd heard. Often in yoga the "why" is revealed in the practice. It's a gentle and subtle art of faith in process. Teacher David said that we are learning to bring consciousness when we are unconscious. The more intentional consciousness we bring the more we're able to be directive. He gave the example of Mahatma Ghandhi. Ghandhi chanted the mantra given to him by his Guru constantly so that he would turn to it in moments of crisis. When Ghandhi was assassinated, he chanted his mantra. This is said to be a very powerful act, as it helps the potent transition of moving from this incarnated form, prakriti, back to purusha. In moments of transition we offer intention.

Teacher David said that we could begin to practice this type of consciousness by trying to still our mind on the Divine, and cultivate that eka graha, one pointed focus, as we fell asleep. Ultimately, we try to develop consciousness in our dream state to again focus the mind. In this way, we are always connected to the Divine. 

This might all sound really esoteric and woo. As with all potent teachings, it's also really practical. We often are incredibly unconscious with our bodies. We plop ourselves into a seat. We throw our limbs around and knock into things or trip. Yoga helps us develop consciousness in the body and move with intention. What if we always moved through space with great awareness? If that type of awareness was not effort but simply permeated our existence? Then the mental consciousness might feel like an integrated extension. 

What if I move with consciousness into that funny tension into my hip? And if it softly opens? And I still my mind? Well, I think only good could come.