Right and Wrong (more on the middle way)

It's been a long month.  I started this post in mid-May, just before our in-city move.  I put off final edits and now it's June.  This is my life at the moment.  Disorganized, distracted, dazed.  My daily routine involves chasing a crawling, climbing 9 month old through the box maze that is our new home.  Rather than procrastinate any longer, or start over, I'm ready to just post my thoughts from several weeks ago....

(May 12) My son finally "did his nights," as the french say, for the first time last night at 8 months and 10 days old.  He took longer than the other babies we know around the same age.  But he beat his dad by a few weeks.  We'd gotten to a manageable place at 7 months, then hit 8 months and it all went to hell.  Screaming, unable to console even when brought to bed with us, many night wakings, still nursing twice, impossible to put to sleep, short naps again... I planned to wait it out until our move Saturday, but by last weekend I had had enough and saw a window of opportunity to implement "cry and console."  Parents will probably know what I mean.  If you aren't a parent, it's pretty simple (but oh so controversial).  My own partner has resisted it.  Let the baby cry for increasing intervals and only console for 1-2 minutes between each, without picking baby up.  Sunday night...we went rounds for over an hour before he fell into an exhausted slumber.  Monday night...30 minutes.  Back to two night wakings to feed.  Tuesday night...12 minutes with, surprise, one night waking!  I was pretty happy.  Then last night he went to sleep by himself in 3 minutes...until 6am.  

Of course I woke up feeling pretty pleased with myself.  I had doubts about this strategy, especially going it alone.  But so far it's working.  Better than expected.  My husband is surprised.  I feel good about being right.  

Of course Pema has something to say about this.  I'm taking it slowly through her book, When Things Fall Apart.  This morning I re-read chapter 13 for about the fifth time.  It's easy for me to get caught up in feeling bad about being wrong - I spend a lot of energy there.  Yet parenting has me on the flip side - feeling good about being right.  It's so easy to get cozy with that superiority.  Pema reminds me to live in the middle - without attachment to right or wrong.  It's hard to move away from that black and white world.  Yet compassion can be found in the space you create in between extremes; a compassion necessary for leaving suffering behind.

 

The Middle Way

I got a little sidetracked from Pema Chodren last week.  It was good to return over the weekend during my morning practice.  I'm trying something new, in an effort to let go of my attachment to completion and order.  So many habits have formed in my life around these desires- I rush through much of my life in order to be done and check something else off my list.  Books are just one example.  It feels so good to finish; I love that sense of satisfaction when the chapter is read, the book is done, and I can take it off the "to read" pile and put it neatly in its place on the shelf.   So I've begun to placing my bookmark at the end of a chapter, rather than the beginning, to encourage myself to sit with what I'm reading a bit longer.  

This morning I found myself, still, at the end of chapter nine - Six Kinds of Loneliness.  

The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.  We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern.  It's the human pattern we project onto a world, a zillion possibilities of attaining resolution... We not only seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution.  We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that.  We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.
Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness... The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things ok... Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are.  Loneliness is not a problem.  Loneliness is nothing to be solved.
Another aspect of cool loneliness is not seeking security from one's discursive thoughts...  We don't seek the companionship of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it isn't, whether it is or whether it isn't, whether it should be or whether it shouldn't, whether it can or whether it can't...  We can gradually drop our ideals about who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be.  We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are.

I love this, especially the last part.  I spend so much energy in my life analyzing what I think others' expectations of my life are.  Stories within stories within stories until I'm exhausted and very far from a calm appreciation of who I am.  I want things to be this way, to be that way, to be just a little bit different from how they are, how I am.  I've missed a lot of my life while I run back and forth between what could have been and what should be.  Maybe it's time to spend some time in the middle.  Loneliness gets a bad rap, but it can be a very rich space, as the ancient Persian poet, Hafiz , well knew.  

Super(new)moon

The moon is once again signaling a new beginning.  I love this about the lunar cycle.  We don't have to wait for another January 1 or another birthday or another season.  Every month we are invited to join the lady moon for a fresh start.  She signals us quietly and calmly, just a sliver of cool light.  She whispers to us, "join the creativity happening all around you.  play and dance and make something.  let go of your quest for the alluring, yet ever illusive, linear (upward) trajectory through life and surrender to the cyclical rhythm of nature." 

Within this fresh start offered each month is the paradox that we continue on with our life.  We keep moving and breathing.  We start again and continue on.  I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert's delightful book Big Magic.  She concludes with a reminder about life's paradoxes. 

Creativity is sacred, and its not sacred.  What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all.  We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.  We are terrified, and we are brave.  Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.  Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.  Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise -- you can make anything.  So please calm down now and get back to work, okay?  The treasures hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.

I love that she asks us to be playful and at the same time, nudges us to settle down and just do what we were made to do.  It reminds me of the dual nature of the moon celebrated in the yoga asana pattern Chandra Namaskar (moon salutes).  They are wonderfully alive, while intensely calming. The moon herself can invite heightened or grounded energy depending on whether she's new or full. 

So what will I do today, Day 1 (in the fourth month of the year, in the 36th year of my life)?  Rather than move on to the next book in my stack, I think I'll start this one again.  See what I might have missed the first time.  Allow the encouragement and inspiration to sink in a little deeper.  Start the same journey and see how it becomes its own, different from the last.

 

Good Enough Practice

"Good enough" is popping up all around me.  6 months ago I entered motherhood and now good enough parenting catches my eye.  I'm nearly finished with Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Big Magic, and themes of mundane and persistence stand out - a sort of gentle nudge to just do it every day, even if your writing is total crap and you don't feel at all creative.  I even tried to write this blog weeks ago, the words came out just right, and then as I went to publish I accidentally deleted it.  My second attempt will have to be good enough, because the ideal first version is long gone.

Good enough is normally unacceptable.  I have high standards, my family's are even higher.  I'm genetically predisposed to perfectionism.  But I'm tired to my bones.  I don't know when I'll really sleep.  And so "good enough" isn't such a stretch.  My yoga practice is a shadow of what it once was.  My work is adequate.  My cooking lacks creativity, but is edible.  I dress merely to be clothed, not to make any fashion statement. 

Good enough feels like failure.  I suffer greatly in my attachment to perfectionism.  I like to believe I'm in total control of my life and when it's merely a fraction of what I believe I'm capable of, I think I am to blame. I wrestle constantly with hope, which seems so virtuous but always lets me down.  My instinct is to run from hopelessness, but I can't shake it.  So here I am, muddling through, suffering greatly, and then my friend brings Pema Chodren back into my life.  She's got everything and more to say about my particular suffering.  This week I'm re-reading this passage from When Thing Fall Apart as if my life depends on it.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience up or liven it down or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keeping looking for alternatives.

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape? We can explore the nature of that piece of shit. We can know the nature of dislike, shame, and embarrassment and not believe there’s something wrong with that. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge. We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It’s better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.

It's funny, this passage.  It gives me a new perspective on the moon cards I read every morning.  Earlier this week, before reading chapter 7 in Pema, I picked up my card for Day 19 of the lunar cycle. 

 

I usually hate drawing this card.  I want to skip over Day 19, pretend it doesn't exist.  Except this time through the deck I'm confronted with shit head on.  Flying shit.  My son sneeks a dirty diaper into our afternoon.  I go to change him, expecting just another wet cloth.  I fling the the diaper open and there goes poop.  I can't see it, but I can smell it.  I'm forced to let eyesight play second fiddle to my sense of smell and let my nose seek it out.  I find a nice little stinky clump sitting on the pretty cream crib bumper.  I shake my head, hold my breath, then go ahead and grab that little piece of poop and toss it out.  There's a tiny mark left behind, but really, no one else would know.  I could undo all those nice little ties and do yet another load of laundry.  Instead, I just leave it.  It's clean enough.  And time to let good enough be good enough. 

A Return to Maitri

I've been a big fan of Maitri (loving kindness) Practice, since my dear teacher Lisa Steele introduced me to it years ago.  It's been a consistent part of my daily practice, at least it was until about two weeks after my son was born and my world turned completely upside down.  I let it go.  And then the hours of lost sleep started to add up.  And my support systems fell apart.  And we had the rainiest winter in Seattle in a century.  And I found out I have to move my family, again.  The world started looking pretty ugly.

Then my best friend brought Pema Chodren back into my life.  While I holed up with a new baby, she discovered secular buddhism and maitri and all the practices I love.  She did the kindest thing for me that I've experienced since she left a daffodil on my doorstep on a dark day 7 years ago.  She reminded me about mindfulness, gently, over and over throughout the long winter.  She sent me passages from Pema's When Things Fall Apart.  She reminded me to breathe.  I'm deeply grateful.

It's a transformative experience to sjmply pause instead of immediately filling up the space.  By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness. -Pema Chodren

Another New Year

Happy (lunar) New Year!  I realized recently that I've put off writing for a very long time, while waiting for the perfect post to take shape in my head.  One of my intentions for the coming year is to write, daily.  Just write, whatever it is I have to say, regardless of how polished it is.  Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic is a must read for the avidly creative!)  And so, a jumble of thoughts...

I picked up some cards last fall that follow the cycle of the moon.  Each day has a card and it's become my meditation since my son was born and my world turned upside down.  Day 27 keeps coming back around and grabbing my attention, and it did so again Saturday.  

Whirlwind: There's something in there in the chaotic windstorm and twisted-up jankyness of this moment.  There's something there.  You're uncomfortable.  There's something there in the discomfort.  There's something there.  It's gold.

 (Day 27, Moon Angels by Ryan Rebekah Eren).

I read this card and immediately think of the poem Eyes So Soft, by Haiz

Don't
Surrender
Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
Tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.
 

Loneliness is not a feeling I enjoy, AT ALL.  I doubt many of us do.  It seems to particularly agitate me.  And so I love being brought back to this poem and reminded of the goodness that lies in such discomfort.  I didn't expect motherhood to bring a huge wave of loneliness.  Yet here it is, day after day.  Fall has turned into a dark and wet winter, dear friends live in far off places, everyone is busy, busy, busy, and I am alone with this dear, sweet baby boy who can't yet talk.

Six more weeks of winter.  Lent begins Wednesday.  Time to hunker down and see what beauty emerges from my discomfort.  Let the new year begin.

Practice - A Balance of Effort and Ease

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 2014-08-02 14.16.25

My daily home practice was flowing smoothly last fall, but once I hit January it ran right into a brick wall.  I couldn't pry myself out of bed early for a bit of asana and meditation to save my life.  It became, at best, a feeble weekly attempt.  I hoped the season of Lent would jump start my efforts.  No such luck.  Daylight savings seemed like another good marker for gathering momentum, but it came and went and still I struggled.  Surely the transition to spring would have an immediate effect...it to passed without significant influence. Then last week, for no particular reason, I woke up early and found my meditation practice lengthened 10 fold without any real effort.  I resumed my study of the Sutras.  I welcomed the ease.

We like to think we have control over most things in life.  We like to think our shear will power is enough to keep any practice strong at any time.  We feel guilty when we fall short, convinced we've failed.  But life has a force all its own and we can not separate ourselves from the influence of all that swirls around us.  Darkness - whether lack of daylight or seasons of personal struggle - can hinder the best intentions for practice.  The effort to keep going can seem momentous.  And that feeling of exertion can build and build until we are all but ready to give up.

We can't predict when the balance will shift back towards ease, but we can trust that at some point we will cycle back around to a more peaceful place.  Our responsibility is to show up - not to be perfect, not to be the best - simply to show up.  To keep some semblance of commitment going, acknowledge when it's hard, and savor the times that it's effortless.

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

Time Crunch

Pike Place ClockI'm still adjusting to the recent leap we took to "spring forward" an hour.  I love the extra light in my living room come late afternoon, but I feel behind as soon as I open my eyes each morning.  We're also coming out of a season that is supposed to provide a chance to hibernate and move at a slower pace, but with the holidays and new year's resolutions, winter is often just as exhausting as any other time of year. The shift of seasons (spring starts Friday) give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what's working in daily routines and what isn't.  As we say goodbye to winter, I'm ready to re-focus my dwindling breath and meditation practice.  Turns out, this isn't just for yogis.  Anyone can feel less rushed and stressed by starting a simple practice. The New York Times recently featured an op-ed highlighting the link between our level of anxiety and our perception of goals.  That we live in a world of constant connection--allowing us to try and juggle numerous things at once--heightens our sense of busyness.  Mental exercises that focus on breath and re-framing how we think about time can actually lessen stress!

Rather than consider this as one more "to do," start small and see if it works for you.  Meditation doesn't have to be an hour-long practice to have benefit.  Five minutes is more than enough, if that's what you feel you can reasonably make time for.  Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier tomorrow, go sit in a quiet place, and set another alarm for 5 minutes.  Connect to each of your five senses in some way.  Then focus on taking three conscious breaths.  Follow the inhale and exhale in and out of your body.  Then think about a time you were at ease - feel the experience of relaxation throughout your body.  Try and stay with the sensation for about 30 seconds.  Go back to your breath and finish with three more slow inhales and exhales.  Repeat the following morning.  See what happens.

Mind and Meditation

Much is made this time of year about getting the body in shape - many of us commit to new routines, workouts, and diets in an effort to improve our health. Yet state of mind is just as important as shape of body.

"Researchers in the field of neuroscience have found that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you are constantly thinking negative thoughts...the neural pathway becomes stronger, and those thoughts become more automatic and habitual. The basic idea is that 'neurons that fire together, wire together.' The more you practice a new behavior, the more integrated or groomed the pathway becomes.  This news is both disturbing and liberating: through purposeful attention, mental training and practice, we can change our brains and ourselves."  - Ann Kearney Cook, Darling Magazine

The brain has been on my mind this week. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, in an article titled "Mind Games", scientist Sebastian Seung compares the firing of neurons to a river and the continual wiring and rewiring as a riverbed - over time the river shapes the riverbed until, in an extreme case, the result is the Grand Canyon. And then the canyon determines where the water flows.

Meditation then, is more than just a way to calm the mind, it can shape our lives. A few years ago I was introduced to a "meditation misperception," namely that a blank mind is the goal of a meditation practice. To stop neurons from firing - that's just a fools errand.  What we're really after when we sit is awareness. Attention is paid to what the mind is thinking and from there, we can make changes. Positive thinking really does have power.  It can actually reshape pathways in the brain.

Want to try it out for yourself? You might start with a Heart Math technique.  Negative thoughts impact physical and emotional health. Instead, if we focus our attention on a previous experience of appreciation, we can rewire pathways to promote well being.  It's simple.  Find a quiet place to sit for a couple of minutes (you really don't need more, a 20 minute meditation goal is pretty intimidating). Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Recall a time you felt appreciated.  Imagine reliving that experience, rather than just thinking about it. Let the feelings spread through your body.  Stay with this experience for 30 seconds.  When you finish, take another 3 deep breaths and notice how your body feels.  Open your eyes and go about the rest of your day.  Find another few minutes tomorrow and repeat the practice.  It doesn't take much to start reshaping the riverbed.

Less is (often) more

I have a pretty short attention span.  I love new projects, I hold multiple jobs, I haven't lived in the same home for more than four years since I was eight years old.  In fact, yoga may be one of the most consistent aspects of my life since I took my first class over a decade ago. For a discipline that is truly the essence of simplicity when you boil it down, yoga in western culture has become a circus.  A practitioner can choose from a myriad of styles, products, teachers and studios to create a perfectly tailored experience.  Teachers often become entertainers, spending quite a lot of time outside the classroom to develop new and exciting sequences, not to mention playlists, in hopes of keeping students engaged.  It's really quite a spectacle and a long way from executing basic postures to ready the body for lengthy periods of seated meditation.

A student stopped me after class this week and politely suggested my teaching lacked the variety he feels he needs to advance his practice.  And so I spent a few days wondering - is our collective quest for new and exciting experiences, products, and relationships really advancement or just distraction?

Truth is, I saw some of myself in this student.  I went through a period of time where I craved new poses and sequences every time I unrolled my mat.  I mentally criticized teachers who repeated playlists.  I went through a teacher training and found I had fun developing the strength to execute complex poses I had previously shied away from.  More recently however, I've been influenced by practicing and studying with teachers who are returning to the basics.  Who spend entire classes on the pelvic floor, tiny backbends and alignment of bones in a handful of postures.  Who repeat the same sequences week after week to give students the chance to familiarize and refine poses.  Over the summer I spent a week working on Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and discovered a way to shift my alignment so that it felt effortless to stand upright on my two feet.  I came away as elated as if I'd conquered handstand.

Advancement in yoga doesn't have to be about mastering difficult poses.  For me, it's become about subtle shifts and attention to detail in poses I've been working with for years.  It's about how I move through my boredom that can surface during a short and repetitive daily practice.  About staying committed when I feel like moving on.  About believing that advancement often looks like standing still, or even moving backwards.

Fall is a particularly good time of year to return to basics and invite repetition into your yoga practice.  The season is full of chaotic energy, as evidenced by the weather outside my window today.  I woke up to rain, then ate lunch in a patch of sun.  Blue sky disappeared as deep, dark layers of clouds moved across the sky and the wind churned up the gray waters of Elliott Bay.  Soon my herbs and pansies were being pelted with driving rain and hail.  The rain continues as the sun creates a bright glare over the waterfront.

The pace of life, if it slowed at all during summer, has picked up speed once again as we hurtle towards December.  It's the perfect time to cozy up to the poses you love and fine tune them.  Explore the familiar faces of Downward Dog, Chair, Lunge, Bridge, Forward Fold.  Move through Surya Namaskar A & B over and over again.  Try these poses and sequences with eyes closed, with deep attention to the structure of your body.  Practice them until boredom sets in and then see what you can find within the monotony.  You just might discover a steadiness and peace of mind.

Does imagination hinder contentment?

One week into fall and it's really here now.  More gray, less sun, serious rain.  I live in Seattle because I like this kind of weather, but the transition from beautiful bright days isn't usually graceful for me.  I welcome fall with open arms, then mope around for a bit while I get used to my change of wardrobe, sky-high humidity, and the need for lamps. My struggle with transition is nothing new, which puzzles me because I love to orchestrate getting from here to there.  I'm the master of calendars, event planning, and navigating.  I get restless with routine, much as I crave it. Why aren't transition and I a natural fit?

The other day my husband inadvertently pinpointed the root of my issue.  Refusing to see his parents' condo remodel in progress, he turned to me and said, "I lack the imagination to enjoy transition."  At first I felt sorry for him.  I love all the details of planning, the thrill of seeing a work in progress and visualizing what it can be and will be someday.  Much of my life is spent in dreams of the future (along with analysis of the past).  In other words, my imagination is quite alive and well.  Seeing what's right in front of me, without any desire to change it, that's not so easy.  My husband though, he's the picture of contentment.  Life ebbs and flow around him and there he is, just being in it.

As I mulled over his comment, I realized that my imagination, lovely as it is, inhibits my ability to move peacefully through my life as it inevitably shifts and cycles.  I have developed such an ability to see something as other than it is that I've become quite clumsy at being right where I am.

Fall is traditionally a season of celebration, of abundance.  When I lived in Italy it seemed that each week brought a harvest festival for yet another crop.  Everywhere I turned, life seemed full (along with my belly).  We equate full bellies with feeling satisfied, so perhaps this is the perfect season to focus on the practice of contentment (in sanskrit, santosha). To savor what is and then let it go as something else takes shape.

Welcome Autumn!

A subtle shift in the air today announces the change of season.  Autumn, held at bay by an almost unbelievably warm (hot!) Seattle summer, is done waiting.  She arrives gently this time, easing us toward the inevitable gray.  Weaker sunlight pokes through high clouds and muted colors seem to surround a garden that only recently bloomed with vibrant energy.  For some, the goodbye is hard; others celebrate fall as the return of a dear old friend.  Those who find summer's pleasures overstimulating count on cooler, wetter days to rejuvenate minds and bodies. HydrangeasWe've managed to make every season busy -- too busy -- for our own good, yet autumn has always carried an expectation of activity.  Time to harvest, time to store up what we need for winter!  Unless you're an avid gardener, farmer, or canner, you likely aren't bustling around to gather and preserve food, but you probably are looking at an overflowing calendar.  Our lives mimic that windy, dry air soon to be swirling colorful leaves to and fro.

My yoga will shift to compliment the weather and counter the heightened pace of life.  The body will need heating practices to sustain the warmth built up over summer months.  The mind will crave symmetry and routine to take respite from the chaos.  Fall is a time for intentional sun salutations, kapalabhati (a cleansing breath), steady rhythms, and grounding focus.  My teaching will offer space for students to explore these practices in depth.  My blog will offer tips for how to best approach the next few months of your life both on and off your mat.  I look forward to our journey together as we scurry towards Winter Solstice.

.

 

Transition Time

Setting Sun

It’s Labor Day, and though fall is still a few weeks off, this weekend feels like a transition time. School starts soon, nightfall is creeping earlier and earlier, vacations are becoming a distant memory.  

As a teacher, I talk a lot about the importance of honoring transition. "Focus on the journey, not the destination," is a common mantra in yoga. We encourage our students to pay attention to what's in between each pose, rather than rush through without awareness. And yet more than a few times this summer I found myself driving as fast as I could across barren stretches of road to "get there, asap!” On a plane to the east coast, I spent much of the flight longing for it to be over, convinced I was in the depths of misery as my skin dried out and ankles swelled.  

Travel is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I love adventure and consider a handful of places dear to my heart -- spots I love just as much as home. Unfortunately, none of them are easy to get to.  Much of my childhood was spent in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho and I try to return every summer. My choices include an 8 hour drive or a 4 hour flight/drive plus airport madness. My best friend lives across the country in South Carolina. I adore my visits with her, but despise the plane rides (no direct way there). Preparing for the trip seems to take just as long as the actual travel time. I'm a notorious over-packer, anxious at the thought of leaving behind something I might need. I bring the comforts of home with me in attempt to feel poised, but the result is usually utter inelegance. I find myself lugging impossibly heavy suitcases through crowded airports while quickly working up a good sweat. Juggling a homemade lunch on my tray table never goes as well as I planned. Delays are inevitable.  

I couldn’t miss this Southern wedding, and so I became just one of way too many people headed somewhere else mid-August. As I tucked into a crowded seat near the back of economy, the guy next to me promptly hunched over our shared armrest and fell into deep sleep, head hovering just above my lap. I fervently wished to be anywhere but way up in the sky hurtling east. Then, somehow, I finally let go of my discomfort enough to do some reflection. I realized that over the past two months when I rushed the travel to and fro, to maximize my experience at home or my destination, I often set myself up for disappointment. What I rushed to get to wasn't always what I hoped for, like I somehow robbed the experience of some of its sweetness by trying to ignore the effort to arrive.  

The journey can be part of the adventure though. In June I went to Ashland with my love and two friends. We took our time as we drove, though I-5 isn't a particularly awe-inspiring trek. We stopped for a proper lunch and dinner, adding a couple of hours to our travels, yet pace felt just right. We got so caught up in our conversations that we literally ran out of gas many miles from our destination. We called for help and waited and eventually got back on our way. Though we spent less time in Ashland than anywhere else I travelled this summer, it didn't go by in the blink of an eye. We took walks and cooked. We found a yoga studio. We ran smack into my friend's sister before a play, unexpectedly.    

So much happens while I look back or wait impatiently for what's next. When I made peace with my two hour delay in Atlanta, I began to take notice of the people waiting with me. As we finally boarded the plane, the guy behind me offered to help with my carry-on. I’d seen him at the gate and pegged him for a southern boy. Now his manners convinced me I was right. We sat down across the aisle from each other and he struck up a conversation. “You were on the plane from Seattle, right? I was in the row behind you,” he offered. Turns out he was born and raised down the street from the University of Washington. We chatted about the Northwest, his plans for college this fall, and sustainability. Suddenly I wasn’t just one of millions on a plane that day. I became known, for a short flight, as a yoga teacher who just finished graduate school and can’t sit still on long plane rides. We landed, finally, in Greenville. As I waited for my friend outside baggage claim, the college boy from Seattle eased passed me one last time with a mountain of luggage. I smiled and waved, he did the same. Off he went to check into his dorm and I to the embrace of my dearest friend. My trip, flights included, turned out to the be sweetest of the summer. I chalk it up to making peace with the transitions.

  

Summer Practice

Sunny sky Much as I love summer in Seattle, I usually like to escape the city for a trip or two.  I always take along my yoga mat, but whether it actually gets used is a toss up.  Sometimes I find I just need a break from my routine, which is a lovely thing to give yourself permission to do.  Last summer I discovered that being away was a great chance to develop my own practice.  Morning yoga by the lake before a swim invited a new layer of calm into my being.  I'm looking forward to being back in in that place for a good long while this July and August.

Before the lake in Idaho though, there's always theater.  Last week I was in Southern Oregon for an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Friends who are fellow yogis joined this time and they are both more adventurous about trying new studios than I am.  Emily even wrote about an experience for my blog last summer.  On this trip, she inspired me to walk a couple of blocks from our vacation rental to a beautiful studio on a quiet street in Ashland.  Rasa Yoga was the perfect place to spend the noon hour on a hot summer day.  The breeze teased the filmy curtains as I moved through reclined twists and watched a few high clouds skirt over the bright blue sky.  The teaching was familiar, spoke to the breath frequently, and promoted a balance of effort and ease--something I always appreciate in our over-asana-ized culture.  I get pretty attached to my studio and teachers in Seattle, and this experience was a nice reminder of the larger community of yoga and the benefits to trying something new.

So here's to summer, and a willingness to let go of our strict routines and embrace whatever comes along.

Accessing Anahata

Much as I like the idea of subtle energy, I tend to resist it when presented with the opportunity to deepen my practice in this way.  For some reason, that didn't happen over the weekend while studying meditation, pranayama, bandhas and vayus with two teachers I greatly admire - Jenny Hayo and Chiara Guerrieri.  I am deeply grateful to both of them for the space they held and the teachings they offered.  And I also know that I showed up ready to receive.  Perhaps 6 months of backing way off of my physical practice to focus on subtle alignment and sensations in the body had prepared me.  I felt my breath move in new ways and was refreshed in my desire for a consistent mindfulness practice. With that sense of openness, I returned to a guided meditation that I find quite powerful, though it had sat on my shelf for a good long while.  Maitri, or Meta, is a simple and beautiful way to increase the capacity of the heart for compassion towards self and others.  I shared my own interpretation of Maitri in my very first post on this blog.  It's certainly appropriate for any time of year, but as I discovered this week, spring provides an abundance of imagery to support the practice.

If you are unfamiliar with this meditation, it's a four-part offering to self, a loved-one, a neutral being, and finally to someone with whom you are experiencing dis-harmony.  I usually use my own words, but this week felt drawn to my teacher's rendition:

May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.

May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.

May we be happy, may we be healthy, may we be safe, may we live with ease.

Maitri is associated with the anahata chakra, or energy point in the heart space.  Each chakra has a color and anahata is green.  I often try to imagine my awareness dropping down into my chest and am always curious to see if somehow the color green will show up.  It doesn't and I'm left wondering what I'm missing.

I left my Maitri practice on Tuesday and had the rare opportunity to move at human speed for the rest of my day.  By this I mean that I walked to wherever I needed to go.  As I made my way from one neighborhood to another, I was suddenly flooded by green.  Everywhere I looked - neon, earthy, dark, mint - green.

IMG_5047IMG_5051IMG_5048IMG_5056IMG_5054IMG_5062IMG_5065IMG_5066It turns out that when I open my awareness, slow down and use my senses as I move through my day, I find that what I've been looking for is already all around.  Every where I go this week, I see green.  The world around me is alive with love and compassion.  It's spring and love is in bloom.  Hello heart chakra, nice to meet you.

Buddhism and Yoga

In an effort to deepen my practice and teaching, I'm enrolled in an advanced yoga teacher training program with 8 Limbs Yoga Centers.  Every few months I gather with other teachers to delve into a particular aspect of yoga.  This coming weekend the over-arching theme is Buddhism and meditation.  Certainly not all yogis are Buddhists and vice versa, but there are many connections between the two practices.  With this training on my mind, I stumbled across "What Does Buddhism Require" in The New York Times.  If you're curious at all about some the tenants of this tradition, I recommend this overview. Two aspects of this article caught my attention, as they relate to both my yoga practice and my graduate studies:

  • "The third (jewel) is the Sangha, or spiritual community, conceived sometimes as the community of other practitioners, sometimes as the community of monks and nuns, sometimes as the community of awakened beings. The project of full awakening is a collective, not an individual, venture."
  • "The Buddhist tradition encourages us to see ourselves as impermanent, interdependent individuals, linked to one another and to our world through shared commitments to achieving an understanding of our lives and a reduction of suffering. It encourages us to rethink egoism and to consider an orientation to the world characterized by care and joint responsibility. That can’t be a bad thing."

The more I practice and study, the more I experience the beauty of the collective and the value of embracing the impermanence of life.  Change is constant.  Community, if we dare to embrace it, helps us move through our ever-shifting landscapes with grace.

Playlist for Spring

While I generally practice at home in silence, I know music can add depth to yoga asana.  I've long enjoyed this playlist for spring classes, and brought it back this week with the addition of Marissa Nadler. Enjoy! Track 01 - Sacred Sounds Vol. I

Shree Ram/Om - The Best of Wah! - Wah!

Om Namah Shivaya - The Best of Wah! - Wah!

Trad: Simple Gifts - Classic Yo-Yo - Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss

Les Abbeilles - eXtraOrdinary rendition - Rupa & The April Fishes

Western Days - Volume One - Gabriel Mintz

Le Soledad - Sympathique - Pink Martini

C'etait salement romantique - Coeur de pirate

Drive - July - Marissa Nadler

Was it a Dream - July - Marissa Nadler

Yaad - eXtraOrdinary rendition - Rupa & The April Fishes

Bach: Cello Suite #1 in G, BWV 1007 Prelude - Classic Yo-Yo Ma

Gol na mBan san Ar - Dialogues:agallaimh - Maire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman

Mountain - Adagio: Music for Meditation - Peter Davison

 

 

Contentment, still relevant

It Felt Love

(by Hafiz)

How

Did the rose

Ever open its heart And give to this world

All its

Beauty? It felt the encouragement of light

Against its

Being, Otherwise,

We all remain Too Frightened.

Sprouts     Spring has come, as it does every year, but I never grow tired of the awakening that happens when the days get longer.  My garden blooms as hibernation comes to an end.  It feels a bit easier to breathe and certainly contentment is less difficult to practice.

     I've thought a lot about Santosha over the past 9 months.  The turmoil of moving, a remodel, moving again and finishing graduate school made me realize how hard contentment really is.  I wrote about it last October, about how easy it is to think we're good at being content when we think within the context of ease.  Once effort is required, santosha usually becomes such a challenge that I brush it aside and focus on other ethical teachings of yoga.

     Spring seems like a good time to strengthen this particular niyama (internal practice).  It's a hopeful time and I can easily find moments in each day that feel good and contentment is nearly effortless.  But there's usually enough turmoil in this season to provide brief tests, when contentment is less a feeling and more a choice.  Like those days of rain and wind we get after a teaser of sun and warmth.

     Meditation is as good a way as any I've tried to encourage growth in this area.  It's easy to get carried away with the business of spring, to become over-stimulated with light and activity.  A few minutes of quiet, alone, goes a long way.  And when I say a few, I literally mean 3-5 minutes.  If you think you can't "do meditation,"  try it for a week.  Start or end your day in silence, just briefly, and see what happens.  Set the timer on your phone for 3 minutes, sit and breathe and observe your mind.  If that feels easy, add another minute.  If it's a challenge, be willing to stick with 3 minutes, even if it feels silly and a bit wimpy (it's not).  As someone wise whom I can't recall wrote, "solitude is where you gather yourself."  It's counter-intuitive in our hyper-connected world.  Silence can be unsettling, but spend enough time there and you just might build santosha capacity for life's effort-ful moments.

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.