People make funny faces in yoga class.
Sometimes I think it's funny (I stick my toungue out sometimes when I'm concentrating really hard - check out the pic! And yes - I have gotten made fun of plenty for this faux pas, and not just in yoga). Sometimes, from the standpoint of instructor, when I see people making faces I feel like I'm terribly mean and students are not having fun, then I realize that regardless of how they are interpreting me, they still came to my class for instruction, and like it or not, that's what I'm givin' 'em. But when when I see yoga practitioners in my class making faces, it also reminds me to lighten up and quit being such a hard-ass.
This begs the question - should yoga be fun? I mean, back in the day of the origins of yoga in India - those dedicated men practicing to "prepare their containers" for the energy surges of meditation - did they have fun? Did they joke around? Did they laugh in practice? And is it too limiting to hold them up as an example for our modern, western interpretation of what yoga is and for what purpose it is used nowadays? I'd like to say that in most cases our intention hasn't strayed too far off that original mark, but we've all been to a yoga class geared for physical fitness - so as not to "scare off" any potential students who don't feel comfortable chanting om. I haven't been to India yet, nor have I studied with a mentor from the motherland, but I have heard that you don't mess around in those classes. Want to or not - when they say jump, you say "how high?". And I suppose that's what we western yogis go on pilgrimage to work with the great masters to do - to get a less watered-down version of what we think we know from home. To get a good, old-fashioned butt whuppin' and to say thank you when it's over. To use it as a catalyst to spur our practice on to greater depth.
There are pros and cons to each side here - that of a fun practice and that of a strict practice.
My meditation teacher is constantly reminding me to find the joy in my practice. Otherwise - what will keep me coming back to my cushion? This too is true of the mat. Without some measure of fun we will quickly brow-beat ourselves into quitting altogether. If we didn't find some fun, someting to smile about, why would we come back? But this, in the end, isn't a toddler's gymnastics class, and without some level of discipline, there would be no progression - no deepening.
There is certainly, a sense of accomplishment felt when we commit to something challenging. It appeals to that streak of militaristic order that runs stronger in some of us than in others. Those that approach their yoga practice as boot camp...I see it in their eyes - they don't always appreciate my jokes. It's like a joke takes the validity out of their practice. But I love a joke - especially when things are getting hard - because you have to poke fun at your consciousness, you have to shake yourself up to test your resolve; to see what you are made of in the face of varying conditions, where off the mat, you don't get to control your environment - the quietness, temperature and atmosphere of difficult situations. Why not shake things up on the mat with some laughter and see how well you hold that Sirsasana, headstand, hmmm?
I like to think my class is a healthy blend of discipline and challenge on the one hand, and silliness and fun on the other. That those funny faces are their own version of my I sticking my tongue out - just a physical expression of mental concentration. I will not apologize for being silly. It's a part of my personality that makes me, for one, love my practice. When I say or do something funny, it just allows a release of pent up energy that I never even knew was pent up.
So within the context of your highly disciplined, very serious and dedicated yoga practice, let the joy bubble up! ...Lke bubbles in a bath tub... ;)
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka
My baby inspires me to meditate and she's not even born yet.
I can't compare my meditation practice to anyone else's, as this is such a deeply personal and intimate journey, that there is no comparison. It's like trying to compare marriages - no basis for comparison one to another. But throughout the course of my own practice, there have been major surges - like tidal waves of commitment and dedication and also major ebbs - deep withdrawals and pushing of the practice away. It seems even more dramatic than my relationship to yoga - the other major spiritual path that I have walked for the last 13 or so years. I have never completely not practiced yoga for a period of months. But meditation practice shows you such deeply buried thngs about yourself, it lays you so bare and naked, that there are times when I have chosen to stay dressed, thank you very much. Where it feels like a magnetic repulsion to put my butt down on that cusion and look at my mind.
I'm coming off of one of those backlash against the practice jags right now. No matter how I tried, how I made the time in the day, how I berated myself for not sitting (which, by the way does nothing good, and is not recommended by my teacher, it's just a deeply buried habit that I have yet to release), I even consulted with my teacher about my lack of commitment at the time, and to no avail. There was something visceral keeping me from the practice. Now, I tried to keep mindful on other levels - to bring it more decidedly into my yoga practice and teaching, to take more walks and get outside, etc., but in the end I didn't make it to my cushion consistently for the better half of a year.
I haven't even met this little one cooking in my belly yet, and yet something has shifted so dramatically. My inclination now is to sit all the time. In the past when I've returned from meditation retreat - in those times when I haven't found the time in the morning before work to sit, I've sat at work on a lunch break, as I've been so in the habit of doing it and so inspired by the practice... well I'm doing that now. And the really fun thing is that at home I sit in the baby's room. Now, I do have a small altar set up in our guest room, and there's plenty of room in there to actually sit, and the baby's room is still a little dishevelled - it's still half storage room from our move, half storage for the coming baby room, and totally not a place where I'd normally sit, if this coming kid wasn't mine. But it is, and the baby's room has such a happy, bright sun-shiny energy for me right now. It makes me want to spend the whole day in there. It helps me stay on target with the meditation when I get distracted - something about connecting to this process of motherhood, and of 'growing baby' inside of me keeps me really grounded when I do my meditation in there. It's pretty cool, I must say.
And again (I am finding this a recurring theme - that of trying not to project my hopes and fears onto the baby) I am going to try not to put the cart in front of the horse - so I will voice this hope once, here for the world to read, then never again. I hope I can continue to sit in there even after the baby comes. I don't know if this is just the naive ruminations of a pre-first time mother, but I have these visions of putting her to sleep in her crib, then sitting down for a half an hour or so and just watching myself in her presence. Not watching her, mind you, as I'm sure there'll be plenty of that going on too, but watching myself and allowing my mind's eye to travel inward, inspired by wanting to be the best mom I can be, and to be a role model of the utmost caliber. To dive inside the workings of my own mind seems like something that being in the presence of her, for whom I try to be a clear and loving guide, will come easily. And in a selfish sort of way, I hope to also inspire her and to model to her a behavior that is a prized one in our household - that of being a mindful watcher.
I wonder how it affects a child growing up to be in the presence of someone meditating on a regular basis. It seems a little absurd in the context of our western culture of go, go, go. Of tv, and internet - social media, and hand held "learning" devices, a.k.a. video games, that being mindful would be something that a child would be capable of. It seems that children are meant to be stimulated and constantly encouraged to explore their world. But that particular paradigm implies a stimulation and an exploration through their senses - through what they see, hear, touch, smell and taste. That stuff is inevitable and will happen all day long regardless of whether I take a half hour to sit with my child. Is it bananas to hope that they might also be turned on the to the eastern paradigm of exploring their rich inner world too? I mean, look at countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Tibet, etc., where small boys (lets not get on the tangent of why small girls don't get this opportunity, but at least be happy that small anybodys get it) enter the monestery at very young ages, to preempt their starvation if they stay with their poor families, or their turning to a life of crime and/or drug abuse otherwise. These kids are turned to the dharma, and to an internal life of mindfulness and of service from toddlerhood. I know it's possible.
I know it's possible, and the cool part is that I want to do it, not for the aspirational quality of my hope, but I just feel drawn to put my cushion down in the baby's room. There's no sense of obligation or of determination or diligence (should I be admitting that?) but just one of the natural flow of how things feel right and will fall together as they should be. We'll see what actually turns out from this little social experiment as time goes on, but at least for now, while it's still quite quiet around me, that's where I'll plant my bum and watch my mind.
I had a dream last night that I was in a yoga teacher training, and I loved it! I loved the training in the dream, and I loved the dream when I awoke. You see, lately, I've been really feeling and working to embrace this shift in roles that I am going through from independent woman to mommy. From being beholden to no-one but myself (and my husband now and again) to devoting my everything to this coming child. I'm not going to lie, sometimes it seems like a rockier thransition than others. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for whatever shred of mindfulness I have to understand the process that I'm going through and happy to understand that it begins now, and not avoid it until the baby's here and I'm a "baby blues" wreck! I'm not mourning the loss of my identity or personality perse (do I have one of those anyway ? ;) ) but more that concept of doing things for myself that aren't of clear or direct benefit to others - like taking a yoga training. In the end, I hope that what I learn in those classes comes through in my teaching, and in some way does touch others' lives, but in the moment of taking the classes, I am growing leaps and bounds, and clearly doing the work for myself. Now I find myself guiltily thinking that those days are over, at least for a few years, and all of my everything will go to Tic Tac. This shift in perspective is at times easy and clear, and at other times a difficult pill to swallow. And moreover - a huge blow to the ego - not that mine can't stand to be knocked down a peg or two... but I'm saying it's not an easy thing and there is a mourning process gone through in some form or another, whether conscious or not, by all mothers to be (and I assume fathers too, but maybe later when the baby actually comes). A mourning of the free-wheelin' young woman and an opening to the mother that will be birthed when the baby is born. I'm not saying you can't be free-wheeling and young after having a baby - just that there is a clear shift in roles, that's all.
And in going through this transition, I have found myself indulging in the occasional pity party - but not usually for too long - ask my husband! Last night's dream put me back in my place a little bit. It showed me that, not only do I not have to give up on those things that inspire me, but that I don't have to feel guilty about it either. That Tic Tac will understand and hopefully, though I can't predict and have to try not to project my hopes onto her, admire her mom's curiosity about the world, about herself and her own humanity, her desire to always keep learning and growing, and to bring her learning to others in a way that their lives may be made a little easier and more joyful. Maybe she won't resent my being gone for a weekend now and again, but take it as my modelling a behavior for her to take up in her own adulthood. A mom can hope anyway, right?
All this brings me around to gratitude. Gratitude for all the blessings in my life - all the gifts I have been given. Gratitude for the immeasurable love that our lives are about to get an infusion of. Gratitude for the path I have taken to find this gratitude, as I wouldn't be here if not fot all the, I won't say mistakes, but rather twists and turns that have led me to this place of deep love. Gratitude for all of the lows that make the highs high, and the middles that even it all out. For the abundance of love and laughter that is in my life alone, my heart if bursting full of gratitude. For all of the learning that I have experienced, and all that is to come (yoga trainings and school of motherhood too!) For family, friends, community and tribe. And mostly - for the mindfulness to observe it all, to pay attention to it, and not let it slip by like just another holiday but rather a day-to-day experience of gratitude for the generosity around me. May I share this gratitude and observance of it with my child, with my tribe - all of you and the world. May it spread and build into a world where we treat each other with kindness and love and leave our fears and insecurities at the door.
Happy Thanksgiving All! May we drink in the generosity around us and pay it forward tomorrow.
However much we describe and explain love, when we fall in love we are ashamed of our words. ~ Rumi
This morning I caught the sunrise from under a blanket of snowy clouds. There was a light flurry of snow at the same time as the sun was peeking its golden head out above the horizon, just before it crawled up into the security of the grey clouds above. I watched it's fierce, brazen journey for a minute in the reflection of a window facing the wrong direction before I realized what I was looking at. Then I opened the door and watched. It was so beautiful, it took my breath away.
I took a picture of it, though it didn't do it justice. Granted I'm no Ansel Adams, but still, you'd think that something so beautiful would have no way to disguise itself, even in an amateur's lens. (The picture above is not the one I took, sadly). But I think, in fact I know, that even the most talented of photographers couldn't have captured that amazing flow of liquid gold, no matter what they claimed, because the beauty of nature is not to be imitated by human hands.
No hue of black can approximate the arresting vulnerability and complex beauty in the eyes of a doe. Not even the finest perfume can conjure the aroma of a fresh lily. It's just not possible, because all we have to go on is the fallibility of our human senses, and the interpretation of such by our extremely flawed human brain. Tainted by memory and emotion, we think we are re-creating some natural phenomenon, but because we are skewed ourselves in perspective, and there is no such thing as objectivity, we don't see that what we put out is a mere shadow of the real thing. We laud ourselves as geniuses that "know " the natural world, but we are charlatans, working with second hand information at best. Silly humans, when will we learn that there is no substitue for experience of the phenomena around us?
So I challenge you to go see, hear, smell and touch (and maybe taste - depending where you are ;) ) the natural world around you today. Have an outdoor meditaion. Snap a picture of a gorgeous snow covered branch. Feel the tug of your over-ambitious dog on the leash as you walk with him up a hill. Sense the briskness in the fall air deep inside the nostrils and sinuses. Don's let another day go by that someone gives you their muddied, second-hand description - go experience it for yourself. Why else do we have a body?
I am presented with a singular, yet universal challenge today. The particular experience bringing up my internal controversy is that of Vail's opening day on Vail's 50th Anniversary. While a small blip on the screen for anyone outside of the winter sports community, it's kind of a big deal around here. Since I moved here in 2005, I have grown to love this place and riding my snowboard as I do yoga and sitting in meditation. Sometimes, on the really hectic days, all I can think that might center me is to put my board on the snow, strap in and find that zen place of quiet turns bathed in bright sunlight. I particulary love those days when the tourists and day-trippers are minimal, and I find my favorite stashes pristine and awaiting my plunder. Sometimes I ride to a favorite spot, then lay down in the snow, by myself, and let the overwhelm of this place, and it's majesty wash over me - putting me back in my place of small fry in in the scope of big Mother Nature. Sometimes it's refuge makes me cry.
Now I am pregnant though. Many women have regaled me with stories of their fearless pregnant winters strapped into their board or snuggled into their skiis, carving sweet lines down my favorite mountain. With adventurous spirit, they have tuned into their centers, found their balance and gone for it, baby on board. I admire that a lot. But I'm not sure I can do it. Don't get me wrong, my friends and riding crew would say I'm pretty alright at at it - I'm not afraid to drop a clif or slide a rail in the park, I adore the swish of the trees on either side as I slide in between a deeply forested line and I'm not too big a fan of putting on the brakes. But because of that - I tend to fall down now and again - in the exploration of what exactly I can do and how hard I can push it. This, thankfully has only landed me in surgery on a knee once, and I'm just a soldier about my shoulder dislocating here and there. But am I able - or maybe the better question is willing, to only make a few turns down a mild slope just to say I was out there? Would I feel even sadder that I couldn't track down my favorite terrain in exchange for saying I put my board on this season?
As I write it, it even seems silly - that this is my big dilemma. To ride or not to ride - that is the question. But as I packed my husband up this morning and sent him off to meet up with all the people I love to ride with (him especially), I felt a pang of envy, I'm not gonna lie. An opening of what could become a deep crevasse of loneliness. Not just without him or my wintertime community of fun-loving, merry pranksters, but also without the mountain. Without the snow. Without that floaty feeling of long, languid turns and the quiet crinkle of the snow underboard.
This begs the question - how often do I let my selfish cravings take over my responsible and reasonable mind? How often do I choose to indulge in what I know to be less than my highest good for the sheer satisfaction of getting what I want in the moment? I think a lot is my answer - judging by how hard this is. I mean, if I would even consider putting the health - and even survival of my unborn child at risk for me to get that heady feeling that I get on my board, then there's got to be some spoiled child inside of me kicking her feet and screaming right now, as I say no - I will protect you, baby. I will be the cocoon to your butterfly, and I will take good care of myself, stay quiet and be gentle. I have to begin to get a little deeper about it, and examine where that loneliness might be coming from - that need to get outside and go fast or get the thrill of flying through the air - why is that my drug and can I be contented with myself anywhere, doing anything? Can I sit on my cushion and channel that same sense of spaciousness that I get on my board? Can I find refuge inside of myself instead of looking externally to my drug of choice?
Well, yes, I think I can. It's going to take work and it won't come without struggle. You see, surrender doesn't always come easy. Sometimes it's easier to put in effort than to loosen our grip on our mind. So when I go sit, my focus will have to be surrender. It'll have to entail not holding on to my sadness and loneliness, but opening up to the grace of my own breath creating that space inside that I always look to my mountain and sun to provide.
Happy Opening Day and Happy Anniversary Vail! We will meet again. And in the meantime, I will meet myself.
Today I am so inspired by the depth of mothering. I'm not even there yet exactly, but still there seems to be endless ways to celebrate the mystery, beauty and deep love of experiencing motherhood. As I prepare for the wonder of ushering a child into the physical world, I can only speculate curiously how life-changing and awesome it might be. There is also this shadow side of it too, though, that seems to be a danger to discount. This looming unknown of how will my body be after, how will I negotiate the challenges of raising a child - am I enough, am I prepared...?
I read this the other day and it brought tears to my eyes, to think how easy it is to buy into the social and cultural matrix that values only youth and beauty. How we neglect our elders, and see the wrinkles around their eyes instead of the depth of experience inside of them. How beauty is such a much deeper thread than what we see, yet we have lost our trust in experience, and allowed media and culture to tell us what beauty is. How unconsciously we pass to our daughters this feeling of not-enough - not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not popular enough, not anything enough. And we don't even realize what we do because of it's deep root in our phsyche. ... Gross. This little affirmation is one of the most beautiful things I've read in a long time. See if if doesn't resonate with you too:
And then I saw this blog. This little gem reminding me to go back to what I know - breath. To trust in the deep well of love that I know and that is the truth of me. To let go of the fear - and know that it is only a construct of my mind to keep me a slave to the ego, and to breathe. To breathe in the face of challenge, and negotiate with grace those moments that I don't know if I can make it through. Enjoy friends, as we all only have this moment to shape. Bring your mind to it, and let it expand! Thank you Mothering Magazne:
With much love and gratitude, I sign off to dive in myself!
I have been a spiritual seeker for many years. I have spent a bit of time exploring the link of the physical, emotional and energetic through yoga and meditation, searching for the non-dualistic thread, that deep knowing we each have access to when we drop the pretenses of our outward lives and dive into our experience of life. I have engaged the dance of consciousness with the breath, and it is glorious - when I get those rare glimpses of clarity. I advocate for a mindful life at least a few times a day in all of the yoga classes I teach and with all of my massage clients. And still sometimes I forget. Actually, a lot I forget.
Ego and habit have such a strong hold on our minds, that it is so easy to get drawn into their web. It is easy to see the world as "exactly as I see it". It is so much harder to let go of our fixed ideas, our expectations, anticipations, rememberances, hopes, fears and cues. It is so much harder to be simple in the moment than we give credit to. It takes a great commitment and a lot of work. And frankly, sometimes it seems so much easier not to do the work; to pretend that all really is as it seems, as we perceive it to be. That my thoughts are valid merely because I thought them - that this makes them truth. Well, upon fiurther investigation, I'm not so sure this is right. In fact, I feel quite strongly that this is totally wrong. And I'm willing to give it a bit more time and mindful exploration.
To the credit of my pregnant brain, I can't remember right now which of my inspiring yoga teachers made this analogy, but I'm going to share it with you anyway, because it's so good :) She said to envision our minds as empty vessels. Because when the vessel is full - of ideas, of judgements, of expectation and self-righteousness, we leave no room for other ideas inside. We leave no room for potential, for possibility. When we think we know how something should be, how it will be - maybe because we've tried it once or twice before so we think this time will be the same, or because someome told us their story of a similar experience - we limit the possibility of the outcome to be just that: exactly what we thought it would be. So where does that leave us on the spectrum of inspiration, of creating new things, new karma? Right...exactly where we started with nowhere to go - nowhere to grow. So we have to break out of that habit, that limitation, and see mind as an emply vessel. Where we can pour new and fresh ideas in - every time. The "I don't know" mind. We have to deeply know that each approach to what appears to be the same experience - that elusive yoga posture, that challenging co-worker, that casserole that never seems to turn out quite right, is a new one and has potential to turn out differently, if only we shift our perception and drop our expectation. ...Easier said than done. Remember that part about great commitment and a lot of work?...
So now that I'm staying home more, expecting this miracle of a baby to come bless us with her wisdom, instead of getting frustrated at not being at work, not making money and not being productive, maybe I can see this as a great opportunity to go sit down and close my eyes. Maybe I could listen and feel the breath as it courses through me, filling me with life-affirming sensation. Maybe I could dive into the charming energy of this growing child inside, and give her as much attention as I've been giving my fear. And maybe I could take my own advice and dive into that deep well of love that is the experience of life in this moment.
Dive in, friends. There is no bottom.
As a student of yoga, massage, meditation , poetry and other such introversions, I figured some of my inspirations might also touch the hearts of others. Read, ruminate, digest, create...always returning to this well of deep love inside to renew ourselves and rediscover what we are. Enjoy!