My family just enjoyed a wonderful people and fun filled vacation. The days swirled around us as we made our way from place to place visiting and playing, and just having a grand time. The days quickly came and went and suddenly we were at the airport heading home. It certainly is true that time flies when you are having fun and I could have used a couple more weeks at least to enjoy the pure leisure and adventure of vacation. But here I am back at home and the first day home is a transitional experience and transitions quite often can be bumpy and bring on the blues.
My transitional experience today brought up some resistance in me. I want to visit with people and go to fun places, laugh at the kids, soak up the sun. Having to unpack, start laundry, grocery shop, and other menial and boring chores was not shining with appeal. The realities of daily life with it’s responsibilities and endless “to dos” is enough to make me put on dark shades and take up the harmonica. I know in a few days I will find my stride and the blues will fade. The fact is it is not the situation of transition that brings on these blues but rather my mental and energetic reaction to it. Transitions are happening all the time, everyday, and the ability to handle them with ease is a skill that probably few possess and all desire.
Transitions remind us that life is impermanent and when things shift or a great time comes to an end, well, it taps into the deeper fear of the bigger impermanence of this life itself. The gift of these kind of blues is a reminder to cherish each day and make them all lively as well as productive, to put fun and hugs and lounging on our to do lists, to put a little vacation in each day, making time for what fills us up and simplifying the rest. Live in the moment, yeah, even if the moment is one of dusting, or yard work, do it fully and transition well. And here it is, another ending, what’s next? Let it be something that makes you smile, maybe get out a harmonica and dance the blues.
We are getting ready today to head out on vacation back to Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively to have fun with the kids, take a break and visit family. When we moved out East a few years ago it meant going off and for the first time not having family around. Until that move we were as tight with my immediate family as one can probably be. Sunday dinner at my Mom’s was a given and we usually saw each other at least one other time during a week. Then in a short period of time we all seemed to scatter, we moved out here, my parents moved to Tennessee as they retired, my brother ended up in Minneapolis, my sister stayed in Milwaukee and it was kind of the end of an era.
I do believe that all things happen for a reason and I see now that the changing geography of our family has brought growth and strength in some way, shape, or form to us all. I have learned to be more independent and to stand on my own. I have also learned that in relationship it is quality not quantity that makes it what it is. I am grateful to have places to go now that are about fun, family and making special memories. On this trip we get to meet a new nephew and new baby girl of a cousin, see friends and siblings, aunts and grandma. It is sure to be a rich and joyful week which we will remember and cherish for a long time to come.
On the surface I am someone who comes across self assured and confident, confident in my thoughts, my actions, my life and choices. The truth is, well, the title of this blog says it all. I struggle daily with big questions, small questions and quite often find myself in a state of insecurity, perplexed by every facet of experience and afraid. One of my struggles in growing a relationship with God has been around the classic question of suffering. How can God let innocents be slaughtered, young girls be trafficked as sex slaves, let people starve while others like me have more than we need? One day after sitting outside in meditation this metaphor occurred to me. I don’t claim it to be entirely original, few things these days are and with years of studying yoga I am sure it has it’s roots in those teachings.
We are all like an ant crawling on a tree. The ant can only perceive what it’s senses allow in the small space it occupies. It can only take in what happens on the piece of bark or the leaf upon which it crawls. However there is a larger reality, the tree. The ant cannot conceive of this larger structure, has no knowledge of roots or it’s beautiful network of branches and how the two mirror each other in perfect synchronicity. The ant does not know that the bark covers a complex system of wood and vascular networks, it can’t know the full scope of reality and yet the tree is real. The ant may not understand many things that happen because of it’s limited vision but that does not mean that the larger reality does not exist. It does.
So until I have more experience that might refine or evolve this concept, I will accept that I am like an ant on a tree and that if things I experience in this world don’t make sense or fill me with fear and doubt, that just because I can’t see the fullness of the universe or the face of God, does not mean they aren’t there. Faith.
“Peace does not mean no trouble, noise, or hard work. It is being in the midst of all of that and still remaining calm in your heart”
If there is one thing I have learned over and over in life, it is to expect the unexpected. Each day is like getting up and climbing onto a roller coaster ride while wearing a semi transparent blindfold, so you can sort of make out where you are going, but nothing is for certain. Some days roll along with only a few dips and curves and others rise and fall with great intensity and loop de loop until it is not clear which way is up.
My day yesterday was in the second category. It went like this. I got up did my yoga and meditation, had breakfast and then got kids up and ready for camp, going good. Go to leave for camp with neighbor kids in tow and low and behold my battery is dead. This happened as a result of my kids helping to clean the car to prepare it to be traded in later in the day yesterday. I go from calm and serene to total panic in about two seconds flat, since not only am I driving kids to camp, I have to teach yoga in less than an hour. I call the neighbor, she takes the kids, and her husband, thank goodness, can come jump my car. Heart rate slows, anxiety recedes.
I get to the yoga studio and have a nice class with a few more students than usual, which is good, and I am feeling much more myself. Things were seeming to shift back to more of an easy ride. I left the studio smiling. Driving home, all is well and I see a teen girl near the road with a cute little Jack Russell on a leash. Suddenly the dog is loose and running right in front of my car. I do my best to swerve, but there is oncoming traffic, and I hear and feel a sickening thud. I immediately begin to sob uncontrollably. I pull over and jump out of the car, I run to the girl and I am a shrieking, sobbing disaster. This girl is upset of course, but more together than me, and goes into the road and picks up the dog. I am astounded when I realize the dog is alive! I sit with the dog while she fetches her brother, and off they go to rush to the vet, leaving me a more mangled mess than the dog.
I manage to get it together to finish my drive home, and Mason, who had no camp yesterday, finds himself having to reassure a still shaken and blubbering version of mom that everything is OK. I called the vet where I thought they had gone and found out the dog was going to make it. Once again I settled down and rode the wave. The day continued with a great meeting with yoga teachers, a rumbling thunderstorm that made Harper and our dog Evan cry, a trip to leave one car behind and take home a shiny new (to us) one, an ice cold beer and finally sleep. Today has been a different ride, less intense so far, but who knows? Gotta ride the roller coaster.
The quote at the beginning is in the bathroom at the yoga studio where I teach and I really took notice of it before class yesterday. Hmmmmm….. will keep that one close.
I don’t have much to say today besides the sun is shining, the birds are singing, I have loads of delicious juicy fruit from the farm to graze on, the kids are happy (and only fighting here and there). This is no time to be wasting away here on this computer!! So off I go to dip my toes in the pool, maybe dance in the sun, or swing on the swing. Why don’t you go do the same? Oh if it is raining or cold where you are imagine the radiant sun and the cool water and do a dance all the same!
I find that when I am teaching yoga, quite often and suddenly, a surprising or forgotten concept will just pop into my mind. Things that were cloudy or confusing will become clear and then become words that I allow to enter the flow of my teaching. In a recent teaching session this happened, and I recalled a concept I have learned about and worked with in my own practice but never had the impulse to teach. This is the concept of psychological time versus body time.
Psychological time happens when we are in our heads, or our stories, and usually means we are moving quickly, vacillating between past and future and rarely visiting the present moment. Psychological time is where our ego identity and our critic reign supreme. It is the place where anxiety and depression or our insanity take hold. We do need this kind of time to get through the practicalities of life too. We need to make plans for future actions and draw from past experience. The problem is that many of us live here exclusively, for the most part, and things are way out of balance. Living in psychological time also leaves us disembodied, and it is in the body where we really feel and process. The body is where emotion lives, and it is in the body where it must begin to be integrated or it just gets trapped in our loops of psychological story time.
Body time, on the other hand, moves much more slowly and exists in the present moment. The best way to transition from psychological time to body time is to take some slow, deep breaths. Breathing reconnects us to all of the rhythms of the body, the dance of expansion and contraction, activating and releasing. It is in this time where we must do the work of processing and integrating our experiences and most importantly the difficult ones. Trauma and pain must be met here in order to be healed and transformed before the shift can happen in psychological time. Our issues are in our tissues! Our tendency to want to speed through life and live in past and future keeps us numb and allows us to avoid fully feeling most anything. This accumulates in our body over time, and eventually, will most likely make us sick. Our dis-ease becomes disease.
The good news is there are many ways to get into body time, breathing for one, yoga, dance, running, golf, martial arts, swinging on a swing, creating music or art and the list goes on. Of course activities like yoga, Feldenkrais, Trager Approach are specifically geared toward facilitating processing and releasing blockages in the body and the mind, but everyone must find their way to what resonates with them. How often and in what ways do you get into body time? If you are rarely there maybe it is time to play.
As an aside, I will always remember this time when I was at Kripalu and all of the clocks stopped working. People were panicked and distressed. Someone went around, and on each clock taped a sign that said, “The time is now.” That still makes me smile.
It is hot here in Connecticut, hitting the upper 90’s and into the 100’s for the next few days. We live in a house with no air conditioning, pretty typical of houses in this area. Needless to say, as I write this I feel various sensations of sweat pooling or dripping. I do not glow, I sweat. I also am, what in the yoga science of Ayurveda, is called a fire type or pitta. I always wondered why hot weather not only made my butt sweat but generally would get my panties in a serious bundle. Well Ayurveda says it is all about my fire quality getting intensified and aggravated. Yep, makes sense. Ayurvedic science advises that in this weather I avoid vigorous or heating activity, and eat cooling foods and drink cooling tea. I also, in classic pitta form, think I know best and generally feel rules are made to be broken.
I am currently training for a half marathon, or two, and a triathlon and damn all advice to hell I am not going to miss my beloved run or bike. In my defense, I rely upon these activities to keep me balanced and out of cycles of anxiety and depression. As this is science we are talking about, my experiments the past two days have had interesting and surprising results. I could not get out to run in the cooler early morning hours yesterday so off I went at 10:00 with temps well into the eighties and humidity high. As I ran that 6.5 mile loop I could feel the fire building in me. I did a two mile climb early on and had to dig deep to go beyond sensation, had to get into my meditative state. The sweat poured out of me and my body seemed sure to fail, but a step at a time and I made it to the top. The second half of the run was still fiery and edgy but my prana (life force) surged and I felt one with the earth, natural and free. Not what is supposed to happen I guess, but it was my experience. I followed that run with a treatment fitting the Ayurvedic rules, cool shower, light cooling lunch including watermelon, which came highly recommended, and lazy lounging at the pool, in the shade of course, for the afternoon. Outcome was, I felt awesome! I did not find my anger blazing at all, no panty bundles in the least. Hooray.
Today I had to go out even later and it was well into the nineties so I chose to cycle. I went moderate completing a 10 mile ride of steamy sweaty rolling hills. Again I followed it with cooling practices. I am feeling good and have a crazy night with the kids ahead, and Stephen is out of town. So far so good, no melt downs, and I mean me, not the kids. Seems that as usual balance is the key to managing the mess of me. Glad to have tools that let me do “unfavorable” things and reap their benefits and offset them with countermeasures. I am a hot mess for sure but taking it in stride.
I think we all experience the deep desire to make sense of life. This can seem very possible at times when things are going well and providence smiles upon us. Then there are the times when we are confronted with world events of violence or disaster or when circumstance brings us face to face with the unimaginable, horrible, hurtful parts of life. Lives cut short or ending needlessly are the most intense experiences of senselessness I can think of. Death is part of life, but it extends beyond our sensory experience or ability to comprehend, and then when it comes violently or unexpectedly it brings us to our knees and shakes the very foundation of what we call sense. This is where we need faith.
In the past few months I have had personal experiences of this. In April the mother of one my ten year old daughter’s friends died after a three month battle with an aggressive form of kidney cancer. I was not close friends with this woman, but we would chat in the classroom or when we got our girls together to play. She was young, vibrant, full of life. In February she was diagnosed with cancer and in April she was gone. When I heard the news of her passing I was stunned. I felt shaken and bruised to my very core. How could that happen? I could not understand, there was no sense in this whatsoever. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am in an inquiry of spirit and faith, and I asked how god, goddess, or universal spirit could be at work here?
Today is the funeral for the stepfather of my brother’s girlfriend. I did not know him at all and yet I am profoundly stricken by his death. He was deeply depressed and took his own life, leaving behind a wife, children, grandchild and extended family and friends. In speaking to my brother about this my heart ached intensely as he cried and said that it did not make sense, that he could not understand. I have struggled with depression in my life and know how it clamps down and becomes suffocating and unbearable. It is an illness, and sometimes it causes death, but unlike other illnesses it has a stigma attached and leaves family and friends in deep trauma. The aftermath of it’s senselessness is staggering and the questions and emotions beyond all reason. How to find strength and faith to go on, in the face of that shattering senselessness is a difficult question.
I don’t really have an answer to that question. I can only say that in my experience and experimentation on my road to healing that breathing always works or starts the larger process. My wise teacher Megha often says,”Fear and breath cannot exist in the same space.” I find that to be true. The other piece that comes up again and again is to surrender, to throw my arms in the air and say ” I don’t get it! What should I do? Show me the way, give me the strength.”, and then to trust that the way will be made clear even if I don’t see or understand for a long time to come. It is when we are faced with senselessness in life that we need faith the most, and it is also where it becomes most fragile. Surrender is the key, there can be no faith without surrender. I believe this state of faith is possible even if you are non theistic or atheist.
The other part is to take shelter amongst each other and in each others arms. The more we connect and extend ourselves with compassion and care the stronger we all grow. Even if we can’t donate money or volunteer or even if we can’t be at a loved one’s side, we can all extend intentional compassion. We can all pray in whatever way that shows up for us. Praying is simply channelling our energy of consciousness to a specific intention. Even an atheist can pray. Of course this is my opinion and feel free to disagree. We make change and create healing better in community than in isolation. Let’s lean on each other and help each other along.
On the sense side of the coin we can all do our part to support research that will perhaps someday end these kinds of senseless events. Give to organizations that promote cancer research and research on the brain and mental illness, which includes alternative therapies like yoga and meditation and beyond. Even with that though, death is part of life, and part of our journey is to confront that place beyond our understanding and no two journeys will unfold in the same way. Along our path we must go, one breath at a time, step by step, the road will be made clear and we can hold each others’ hands on the way. “May the long time sun shine upon you.”
Consider making a donation to The American Cancer Society or The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
I am sure I will have more to say on this topic as I process and meditate and pray. Your comments and input are appreciated. Namaste.
“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
I presented a two hour meditation and pranayama workshop this morning to yoga teachers in training. As part of our exploration of meditation practice, we discussed the intention of meditation practice as sitting in the “what is”. Sitting in the mess and breathing, without the need to react, respond or change anything. We sit in meditation and make space for all of who we are, in any moment, to be seen and held without judgement. This is difficult since we have a lot of programming, generally, that tells us to hunt down our shadow parts and eradicate them, or at least send them into exile in a lock box, cast down to the bottom of the ocean of our consciousness, to hopefully never return. But it becomes evident quickly that this does not work, no matter how hard we try to lock our skeletons in the closet they always find a way out. Meditation is to dance with whoever shows up for the party, even, and especially, the skeletons.
The truth is that those skeletons and shadows, the dark side, have so much wisdom and energy to offer, and if we don’t invite them to the party and dance with them their offerings are lost. As part of the yoga training I am in right now one of my specific practices is to look at my anger. My anger has caused me great pain and shame because I resist it, and extend to it only judgement. I have made no room for compassion. I have tried many times to send my anger into permanent exile, and have failed many times. My intention now is to invite my anger to the party, to dance with it in my yoga and my life so that I might see it fully and from all angles. If I dance with it, I might charm it into revealing what currents lie underneath it, what great energy is it’s source.
When I think about how much energy surges through me when my anger comes up it is amazing. Now, what if I came into relationship with that and made friends with it so all that energy could perhaps shift or transmute and be channeled into my evolutionary process? I know that the effects would be enormous and enlightening. I know the way to achieve that is to keep getting on my yoga mat and my meditation cushion, roll out a red carpet, fling all the closet doors open and have a skeleton’s ball.
What skeleton should you let out of exile? Open the door, extend it a hand and a smile, maybe a bow or a curtsy and ask it to dance.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
I will turn forty in a few short months and honestly I am really looking forward to it. During my thirties I took up long distance running and then triathlons. It has become quite commonplace for me to say, ” I am training for ________.” As I have been considering the coming of this great milestone I feel things shifting and realigning in me, and in a good way. Recently it occurred to me that this coming into the forties is an event into which I can bring focus and intention. I can bring vision and action to this grand occasion so I might enter it with the same excitement and enthusiasm as I bring to race day.
My next consideration is, what are the skills and qualities I want to build and strengthen to bring on this next decade’s journey? I have already grown into a deepening of my yoga practice, and I don’t think it is any mere coincidence that I am in this year long yoga intensive focused on spiritual growth as I arrive at this new cycle in my life. I want my training for forty to be about loving myself more, exploring and making room for new adventures of joyful living and expanding experience. I want to find new edges and do things that scare me. I want to be balanced as well, and mindful of my energies, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I want to see, feel, smell, and taste, new regions and nuances of this world, both the one outside of myself but even more so the one inside myself. I want to dive down into all the spaces of my being with a thirst to leave no stone unturned, to leave no part untouched. I want to revel in being my perfectly imperfect, fabulously flawed, magnificent mess of a self. I want to play and frolic and dance through this next decade. I am just adding specificity of intention to a process that has been ongoing and will continue on the day of my birthday and beyond. Ahhhh life, a magnificent and messy marathon, a great journey indeed.
In fact, just today, I was all lit up and inspired about the possibility of training for decades to come by a random encounter in line at Whole Foods. The woman next to me commented on how much she liked my tattoo. She then lifted her shirt sleeve to show me hers, which was simply the word hope. She smiled a beaming smile and said, ” I got mine for my eightieth birthday.” What struck me most was not how cool it was that she got a tattoo at eighty, although that is very cool, it was her youthful attitude and the light of joy and fullness of life that she radiated. It was obvious that this is a woman who at the age of eighty is still exploring and playing, embracing and relishing life, much like my own grandmother, who is in her eighties and despite fighting cancer for years has never let it stop her from living it up. How lucky she is to be able to do that!! I hope to be that lucky.