Interactive Intentions

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Be soft in your practice.  Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall.  Follow the stream, have faith in its course.  It will go on its own way, meandering here, trickling there.  It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices.  Just follow it.  Never let it out of your sight.  It will take you.  - Sheng Yen, Chinese Buddhist Monk 

Happy New Year!  A few years ago I started a habit of taking time to establish my New Year’s resolution.  I generally set the intention in early January to be open to inspiration and then settle on a specific resolution for the Lunar New Year.  Adopting a fluid, rather than rigid, approach is often more helpful more me in the long run.

This year I tried something a little different.  I actually did set my resolution at the beginning of January and have been revisiting as I waited for the Lunar New Year.  In 2018 we've had an extra long time between the two beginnings.  Lunar, or Chinese, New Year arrived last Friday, February 16th.  Why does it change?  Lunar New Year falls on the second day of the new moon between the 21st of January and the 20th of February.

I appreciated the space this gave me to engage with my intention and modify as needed.  I started off with a commitment on January 1 to bring curiosity to my relationships.  I explored this in my writing for the Riveter blog, and community quickly joined curiosity as a focus.  I sat with these two ideas and another word came up for me - connection.  The past eight weeks offered me time to explore these three concepts individually and collectively.  

Curiosity - As a mother of a toddler, I find that I'm fairly starved for adult conversation.  When I sit with this longing, it becomes clear that this often manifests as a desire for adult attention.  I get the chance to interact with the outside world and I talk, alot.  I'm trying to be aware of that and balance my need to tell stories with curiosity about others' lives.  I want to engage in thoughtful ways with people I disagree with - in a manner than honors both of us.  When alone, I hope to wean myself off of mindless downtime like watching favorite shows and listen to more podcasts that engage my brain.  New Year's Intention #1 - ask questions and stimulate my brain.

Community - This winter I'm focused on how to hibernate and still build community, because winter can be a dark and lonely time of year.  Between cold/flu, short days, and traffic/schedule challenges, it's hard to find time and energy to get out of the house and be with people.  I'm working on small things, like meeting friends at a yoga class I'm already going to so we can practice together or get to know another parent at my son's school or take a writing class to remind myself that I'm not the only one passionate about this craft.  New Year's Intention #2 - be in community.

Connection - Speaking of writing classes, I attended one on dialogue last weekend and was amazed at the life lesson hidden in the group exercise.  We had to fill in half of a conversation for an assigned role.  I was given a card with an instruction to write four lines of dialogue as a teenage daughter in an argument with her mother, without discussing it with the mother.  Then I found the woman who wrote the mother lines and we engaged in the dialogue.  As you might expect, since we wrote our sides of the fight separately, we talked past each other.  The surprising aspect of this exercise was how true to life it felt.  Even when we're right in a conversation with another person, we so often have our own agenda to get across and don't listen or respond very well to what the other is saying.  New Year's Intention #3 - listen in order to connect.

Brené Brown summed up my thoughts for 2018 pretty perfectly in a recent interview with Krista Tippet.  She speaks to loneliness stemming from  "counterfeit connection" and "common enemy intimacy."  We've lost our ability to connect and truly belong.

And so this first practice of true belonging is, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?  Stay curious, be kind, and, listen with the exact same amount of passion that you want to be heard. 

A Practice for Householders

I rush around a lot these days.  Motherhood elevates multi-tasking and what my entrepreneur brother calls "hustle" to an art form.  The pace is relentless and slowing down isn't really an option.  And I'm the queen of downshift and self care, or I was until September 2, 2015, the evening my son arrived.  

Life kicked up another notch recently, as I took on some additional projects and teaching.  Somehow I'd managed to re-introduce a brief time of morning yoga into my daily rhythm, thanks to early PNW spring sunrises as we move towards the solstice.  With these quiet mornings, I feel pretty grounded and less hurried, and was lulled into the sense that I had returned to my full practice of meditation and attention to nature's rhythms.  In reality, I'm still rushing here, there, and everywhere and not in tune with the moon's cycle, one of my favorite rituals.  

I spontaneously decided to use a lunar theme in the yoga class I taught Thursday evening at the Riveter.  I'd been wanting to bring in the concept to my classes there, syncing the feminine qualities of the moon with this beautiful female focused co-working and wellness space.  I quickly glanced at my calendar and saw "Supermoon" for Friday and assumed full moon.  I taught a practice focused on grounding during this phase.  While seasonally appropriate with the solstice approaching, I misled my students because I taught something I wasn't fully engaged in on my own.  I'd been spinning so fast, I'd shown up to class in-authentically, however well intentioned.  I continued on in my alternative facts bubble and based my personal meditation on Friday on the full moon Moon Angels card.

I realized my mistake when I finally did slow down.  Restorative yoga on a Sunday evening is about as quiet as one can get without going to bed.  I've been enjoying a class at Seattle Yoga Arts, where I have no connection as a teacher.  Perhaps this allowed me to show up completely as student.  For the first time in several years, a studio experience unexpectedly brought me fully and deeply into my body.  It was an equally intense and peaceful experience, focused on the throat chakra and a simple mantra "find my voice."  This 5th chakra, Vishuddha, is all about authenticity.  Once the practice as completed, I took my time leaving and walking the block home.  I lingered on the sidewalk and strolled another half block, looked up, and was shocked to see the crescent moon.  This little sliver was decidedly not the glowing orb I'd expected.  I felt the wind knocked out of me and had to sit down on the closest stoop to re-orient myself.  

Rebekah Erev Studio  Moons2017 (available for download here)

Rebekah Erev Studio Moons2017 (available for download here)

The difference between new and full moon energetically is significant, hence my strong sense of disorientation.  The new moon is about beginnings, a chance to start over on a monthly basis.  It exudes qualities of calm, quiet, and groundedness.  It can border on lethargic.  Sometimes it's appropriate to give into these aspects, other times we need to counter this energy.  The full moon is exuberant, lively, expansive, tending on chaotic.  At one time, not so long ago, my life involved rituals surrounding these regular markers.  The lunar cycle remains deeply resonant in my life, even if I'm not closely tracking each new and full moon.  It's drifted from my regular offerings as a teacher, yet feels so appropriate in this current hyper-masculine, regressive, and heated political climate.  I'm craving the cool, creative, life-giving moon.  

Speaking of lunar ritual, my friend Emily (aka the Ritual Coach) has a beautiful new posting on her blog, offering an honest and heartfelt new weekly energy ritual.  Giving ourselves permission...to explore what's stirring deep within us.  Yes, more of that please.

So how do we give ourselves permission to practice in the midst of busy lives?  How especially do caregivers of young children practice? If retreats and 20-30 minute (really, even 10 minute) meditations aren't available, do we just give up?  Absolutely not.  The Yoga Sutras (the original text outlining the philosophy of yoga) acknowledge that not everyone chooses a monastic life, and there are seasons to a lifetime.  When we're in the midst of careers and raising family and taking care of aging parents, we still practice.  It just looks different.  

My favorite Sutra has always been 1.33 - the "Householders Sutra."  It's for those who live in the world, not apart from it.  This Sutra acknowledges the way we come to any situation with an agenda, with our desires and hopes for the universe to be a certain way.  Here we are, very much in the world, in the messy weeds, yet have a choice to shift perspective and live within the context of four simple concepts that help us to set aside our wants and be present with what's happening for someone else.

I had the privilege to study with the amazing Jo Leffingwell for a couple of years and explore the Sutras in depth.  I'm pulling from my notes taken in her studio to offer an interpretation of the sanskrit for Sutra 1.33 that resonates most with me.  Rather than merely reacting to or mirroring others, we can stop spinning stories in our own minds and really see another person and situation.  From that place of stillness, we respond:

  •  where we find happiness, we express goodwill and friendship
  • where we find pain, we express compassion
  • where we find virtue, we express joy
  • where we find non-virtue, we express neutrality

It's not an easy practice, but it is accessible in the midst of busy lives.  It doesn't require signing up for a class, getting out a mat, finding a studio, or clearing a space on the calendar.  Through these straightforward concepts we can give ourselves permission to include a personal practice in our lives, to show up more authentically for ourselves and others.

Begin (again).

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction. — Cynthia Occelli

An apt description of my postpartum yoga journey.  15 months since the birth of my son, my practice has been completely upended, my body reshaped, and my mental state fluctuates wildly. I can feel a shadow of myself one day, and then the next I find I've more energy, creativity, and strength than ever before.  Throughout I've found it helpful to approach my postnatal practice with a beginners mind and I'm bringing this idea to my students as well.  Rather than overwhelm a room full of new mamas with a zillion options, in an effort to keep longtime practitioners engaged while simultaneously offering a safe space for beginners, what if postnatal yoga was really a space for everyone to explore an intro level practice? 

As a yoga teacher with pre and postnatal credentials, I have the added experience of exploring yoga in my own body through pregnancy and after birth.  My teaching is now informed from both training and personal understanding.  What I've found is the unique challenge of approaching yoga with the curiosity I had the first time I rolled out my mat, while allowing space for muscle memory and accumulated knowledge from years of practice.  Life becomes instantly more complicated with the birth of a baby, and there's relief in straightforward physical postures. Discovering yoga after pregnancy is a wonderful time to learn or relearn the basics of asana, pranayama and meditation.  I try to offer my students a space to approach their practice in this same way.  For those returning to yoga after giving birth, there is an incredible opportunity to begin again.  The postpartum body invites mothers to approach familiar poses with wonder, patience, and compassion. 

Whether you are new to both yoga and motherhood, returning to the practice in a new body, or moving through post birth experiences for a second or third (or more) time, you might find comfort in how effective the simplest of poses can be.  Revel in the simplicity - how the most basic of poses can provide challenge.  Feel the pose as if for the first time, and refine it.  Return to poses you had to forgo during pregnancy (twists!).  Rebuild your abdominal muscles from scratch, and perhaps discover them stronger than ever.  I used to avoid abdominals at all costs, I mentally disliked the work.  Then it became necessary for daily life - to ease low back pain, to feel good in my jeans again, to be able to pick up my son day after day as he grows.  It's taken much longer than I every dreamed, but starting from scratch and working diligently has produced a deep core strength I've never had before.

All that said, postnatal yoga classes are more then a place to awaken and tone stretched-out and saggy abdominals.  It takes tremendous courage to start (or start over) a practice.  For many mothers, it is an enormous effort just to leave the privacy and comfort of home and enter into the public realm with baby.  Crying might be viewed as disruptive, diaper changes could turn messy and chaotic, unspoken assumptions about exposed breasts hang in the air.  My biggest priority when I show up to teach and hold babies is to offer a safe space for vulnerable bodies and spirits, a place for you to find support and affirmation for your own journey through motherhood.  Come as you are and begin (again).

(Join me Tuesdays 1:30-2:45pm at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill)

Happy (lunar) New Year

New MoonAs I deepen my practice, I find myself surrendering to a lunar-centric cycle of life.  I notice my personal rhythms seem better aligned to the moon.  Shifting from observation to implementation however, is where the real challenge lies.  The Sutras say that our lives settle easily, comfortably into the deep grooves of our habitual patterns.  We won't get out of these patterns without slowing down to recognize them and then choose a different action.  I am free to act differently, and yet this choosing is perhaps the hardest part. I finally gave myself room to breathe this January.  I'm never ready for a new year when the calendar says I should be.  It's too soon after the hectic holidays, too dark, and too cold.  My appetite for routine needs time to build back up.  In the relative stillness this month I reflected on life's ever-present busyness.  The pace of life around me won't change, I have to decide how I engage with it.  Yes, absolutely, sounds great, will slow down...check.

And of course what did I do this morning to celebrate the new moon and new year?  Convince myself that I should go to a morning yoga class and run errands and so on and so on.  And once I've settled on should, I set in motion a familiar pattern of obligation, efficiency addiction, and guilt if I change my mind.  So, mind made up, I set my alarm.  Alarm buzzes, I get ready for my day in semi-hurried fashion, rush through breakfast, pack up a bag, panic at the time and run out the door per usual when I have to be somewhere before 9am.  The rain outside stops me -- I forgot my umbrella.  Back down the hallway.  Rush, rush rush...I'm now late.  Umbrella in hand and heart rate elevated I race once more out the door.  And then I stop, for just a moment, and see the absurdity.  I'm stressed out about getting to a yoga class.  I'm rushing around so I can go relax.  I'm so focused on getting to my practice that I forget to be in my practice.  The pause is just enough to break the spell.  I stop, slowly turn and walk back to my front door.  It's cold and wet outside.  I don't have to go anywhere.  I'm a yoga teacher for goodness sake, I can practice at home.  Heart rate slows, breath lengthens, body relaxes.  Another day will be better suited to joining others in the studio.

And it was like...magic

i'd forgotten about that line repeated several times throughout Sleepless in Seattle.  in fact, i'd pretty much wiped the movie itself from my memory.  until it came up in conversation recently as a holiday film and i got to watch it with someone who'd never seen it before.  amazingly, aside from some gigantic/corded telephones and unfortunate 90's fashion, the movie stands the test of time quite well.  witty exchanges between father and son really steal the show.  and then there's that line.  "And it was like...magic."  and so it was yesterday in my afternoon yoga class. our focus was on transitions - approaching and living them mindfully.  we slowed everything down and to my utter delight, my students responded with one of the most beautiful practices i have witnessed as a teacher.  we lost ourselves in movement, music and presence.  we aligned ourselves with the coming new moon and got carried away in the intensity of its luscious grounding energy.

in the aftermath, it seems appropriate to honor my students with a few words of gratitude and share a playlist with you that's calmed and inspired my week.  to those who shared their lovely selves with me yesterday, i say thank you.  to every one else, i offer this simple meditation: being present being perfect.

January 10, 2013  |  Playlist

Butterfly's Day Out  |  Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Conner, Edgar Meyer                                      Violin Concerto in F Minor  |   Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Winter)                                            Gavotte et six double  | David Greilsammer                                                                          Le Soledad  |  Pink Martini Villa-Lobos: Suite Populaire Bresilienne - 1. Mazurka  |  Manuel Barrueco                           Les Abeilles  |  Rupa & The April Fishes                                                             Intermission  |  Coeur de pirate Gol na mBan san Ar  |  Máire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman                                       Bach Cello Suite #1 in G, BWV 1007 - Prelude  |  Yo-Yo Ma                                          Rachmaninov: Vespers, Op. 37-.04 O Serene Light  |  Robert Shaw Festival Singers