So on we can go

If you read my blog, or know me personally, you know that my brother and my mother died earlier this year. What you may not know is that a friend of mine died not long after my mother did. So, I think we can say that spring this year was full of loss for me. Grief, even if it is complicated grief, or expected grief can cause us to react and process life in unpredictable ways. My mind, like so many of ours, can focus on the loss. Indeed, whenever I think that I am feeling good, my loss smacks me in the face one way or another again.

Thankfully though, we have the words of giants to help us along when things feel dark and difficult.

Swami Vivekananda often says things just right. If you haven’t read any of his works, do. Your heart will not regret it. Here is something that has been a bit of light for me lately.

The ideal of man is to see God in everything. But if you cannot see Him in everything, see Him in one thing, in that thing which you like best, and then see Him in another. So on you can go. There is infinite life before the soul. Take your time and you will achieve your end.

Accordions and expectations

I just had a birthday that happens to coincide with a whole bunch of introspectiveness, which isn’t a bad thing. My teacher, BK Bose says that comfort cannot be the objective of an examined life, and it seems that I keep receiving opportunities to examine myself. So, definitely not comfortable, but useful for sure.

A recurring theme for me this year has been parsing out the motivation behind my actions. Sometimes, the reason we started something no longer applies. Sometimes, we do things that no longer fit, but we feel perceived expectations. (Notice, this is perceived expectations. Truthfully, most of the time no one is really thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves.)

A true life example for me is this year, I gave up playing the accordion. I loved playing, for about two years. The learning process was spectacular, and I picked it up when my kids were very little and I wasn’t using my brain much. It made me feel revitalized, and it was a lot of fun. The last year was a slog. With my teaching schedule, library and volunteer work, I never had time to play, and I kept going much longer largely because I fell into a “I should, I’ve come so far” and for adoration of my wonderful teacher. I, however, was no longer enjoying it. It felt like another obligation. I took a forced hiatus from lessons, due to an insane schedule, and didn’t really miss it. The spark was gone. It took me more than six months to realize it, but I had already gotten what I needed from it. I have moved on. I am thankful for hundreds of hours that I spent playing, but circumstances have changed. The only reason I would have kept going is for external approval, not intrinsic pleasure. And external approval? That’s just not a very good reason.

Is there anything in your life that you hanging onto, maybe because you are used to it, or because it pleases someone else? If something has felt more like a burden than something that feeds your soul, sit on it, think about it, and after a time, make a fully aware decision about what needs to happen next. Feel like sharing? Leave a comment, I would love to hear about it.


One More Time with Acute Focus

I’ve told you all of my friend and teacher, Kyczy Hawk before. She says so many wise and funny things that I think I could probably publish my own book called The Kyczy Compendium, but as she is a published author with multiple useful and readable books under her belt with another on the way, she may take umbrage at me mining her sayings for my own gain. Luckily for her, she has little to worry about on that front, as posting here on my blog every couple of weeks is about as disciplined as I can be at this point in my life.

I have the great privilege of assisting Kyczy at her Somatics class at Willow Glen Yoga every week, where we both work. Somatics is made up of a different series of movements which may build on each other in a class. Each movement set is carried out slowly and conscientiously in repetition of approximately 6-8 times. It’s a wonderful practice, that I highly recommend. Click here for more on Somatics. A few weeks ago, we had finished most of a set of Somatics exercises and she said, “One more time with acute focus, in case this was becoming ordinary”.

For whatever reason, this struck me. First off, it enriched my mind/body experience of my class that day. But also, our days are made of routines, and even when something isn’t routine, our brains try to make them so as quickly as possible. How much in a day do we perform unconsciously? As a matter of surety, I will die someday, and so will you. Why don’t we do our best to see the ordinary as extraordinary? With all of the random chance everywhere, with all of the systems in our body just pumping away, with all the crazy random chance that makes life suddenly go from one direction into another one altogether, I challenge us to try to bring that attention, that acute focus into our daily lives, or maybe just even a part of our lives. Let me know if you try it.



Sometimes, just when you need it…

Friends, I have not been enjoying anything approaching good health. For three days, I ran a fever, compounded by chills, severe, bone-crushing body aches, and nausea. It also felt like an elephant sat on my chest.

Generally, I get asthma like symptoms after a severe cold and have special medicine I take to get through it and enjoy happy and healthy lungs the rest of the year. Because of our incredible blessing of an overabundance of rain this year in California, all those long-dormant seeds came blooming into glorious life all at once, and I am wheezing and out of breath. I couldn’t even teach my class this morning, I’ve been whistling and rattling so much from my chest.

I hate the sensation of not being able to breathe. It makes me feel like I am going to panic, or cry, or freak out and die. (Literally…I imagine freaking out, running out of breath, falling over and hitting my head on the sharp corners of our coffee table and bleeding out before the kids get home from school).

So, there I am sitting on the couch, listening to my rattling and laboring breath, trying to meditate, but spazzing myself out instead. I feel demoralized after so much illness this week, totally out of it and anxious. So, I got online to try to give myself something else, anything else to think about it since even focusing on a book was beyond my reach. And there it was, from the wonderful and erudite B.K.S. Iyengar. I almost cried.

Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.

Then I got rewarded with one full breath. It will have to be enough for now. I am thankful.


Things change

So, today I was talking to one of my friends who also comes to my yoga class, and I was asking her what makes her keep going on her personal yoga journey.  She said a few things that were interesting to me, but she also said that she likes it when I say, “try it on the other side, the other side could be different”.  We chatted about that for a bit, and it’s really true.  One side may be easier from the other, and what’s more, what is hard or where it is difficult may change from day to day.  For example, a balance pose may work on your left side, but not on your right.  And, another day, it may be beautiful on your right, but not on your left.

Now, this may seem obvious to some of you, but we can really apply this advice to life also.  One time, having a house full of children will be easy, and another time miserable.  Sometimes dinner pans out great, another time, it may be uninspiring.  You can’t judge it from one experience, because as my friend Kyczy says, (paraphrased a lot here) our best will be contingent on the sleep we’ve had, the food we’ve eaten, and a million other factors depending on the day and the task at hand.

So, let’s be compassionate with ourselves and one another, and give ourselves the space to not have to be perfect each and every day.  Sometimes, our bodies may be stiff, sometimes our minds will wander, and sometimes, we just didn’t sleep enough or we’ve had bad luck.  In your yoga practice, learn to give yourself the room to grow and put the ego aside enough to do something even when it’s hard or unsuccessful, and maybe, with time, this compassion will extend to other areas of self-care in your life.

Meditating on Death, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended a workshop on my eventual death.  It was extremely powerful, and sort of relieving.  There were Five Recollections which came down to the following, taught by Noell Clark:

  1. I am already in a state of aging.  I have not gone beyond aging.
  2. I am subject to illness and have not gone beyond illness.
  3. I am subject to death.  I have not gone beyond death.
  4. I will be separated and parted from all that is dear and beloved to me.
  5. I am the owner of my actions, heir of my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, supported by my actions, whatever I do for good or for evil, that I will inherit.

What I found is that there are things that are upsetting to me, and those that are not, just like anything.  However, in meditating on these truths, it’s become clear to me that it doesn’t really matter whether they upset me or not, because it’s all coming.  The beautiful and awful day I spent meditating on these things helped me to come to terms with the inevitability of them all.  Noell would read out the recollection and then give us time to meditate on it, and then more time to write about it.  The last two recollections, we undertook in the beautiful and atmospheric Santa Clara Mission Cemetery.

These truths bring us back to the reality of impermanence, in all things.  In the first recollection, realizing that I am in the best condition that I am likely to be in again was kind of shocking.  Obvious, but shocking all the same.  Things are already wearing out.  There are things I could do when I was younger that I no longer do, and things that I can do now, that I will no longer do in x amount of years/months/weeks.  Sometimes, I tell people that I knew I was middle-aged when I could no longer sell my eggs in the Pennysaver ads (you know, those advertisements when they ask for young women between the age of 18 and 35 to sell their eggs to donate to infertile couples).  It’s a joke, but also true, as most jokes are.  That doesn’t place less value on my current life, and it really never was an aspiration for me, but it is a marker of time.  There are more serious changes on the horizon, but they are already happening.  No one can slow down this train.

Recollection 4 was also a killer for me.  But again, it’s already happening.  My girls who looked at me like I was magic when they were toddlers look at me now with a more tempered love.  In 10 years, they may not want to spend much time with me.  In 20, perhaps they will dodge my phone calls.  As a bibliophile, I see how the world is falling away behind me.  Things go out of print.  Handwriting is being abandoned.  The Internet has changed human communication forever.  It’s all disappearing, and in this century, almost faster than we can get our feet on solid ground again.

And of course, Recollection 5.  What can I do with all this?  I am reaping everything I have sown.  How can I be the light, instead of the darkness?  Instead of feeding into malaise and anger, perhaps I can make things better?  No, it will never be how it was, but maybe it can still be beautiful.  Instead of being caught in the cyclone of negativity and misery that is all around us, maybe I can be a still place in this world.

In this month’s Spirituality & Health magazine, the editor referred to poet Mary Oliver.  “The same person who wrote, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ also wrote ‘But no matter how hard I try to tell this story, it’s not like it was’.”

So, let’s not grasp. Spend time with the recollections, let your mind meditate on the future to come to terms with the inevitable.  Then, anchor yourself in the present to live every second you have now.  Because later, it will be gone, and you will never be able to tell that story fully again.

As always, I love comments.  Have you spent any time digging through the discomfort of inevitability?  Add your thoughts to the conversation.


Meditating on Death

So, just to get this out of the way, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon.  Tomorrow though, I will be thinking about dying a little bit, and how to practice the very act of letting go during Noell Clark’s workshop tomorrow, Yoga and the Five Recollections: Practicing Impermanence.  I’ve talked about Noell previously, as she is my special first yoga teaching teacher, and not only is she an amazing teacher in both lecture and practice, she’s also a fabulous person.  So, if you would like to contemplate impermanence with me, evidently there are still a couple of spots left for tomorrow.

This all brings to mind an odd time in my past.  I say odd, but it was actually very cool.  For unknown reasons, before I had my children, I went through a period of about 6 months where I thought of the possibility of my death regularly.  I’d just be walking along, or working, or cooking in my kitchen and think to myself, I could drop dead right now.  And you know what?  It’s still true.  I really could.  I have reached the age where people that I hung out with as a teen have started dying.  I’m of an age where it would be a tough break, but not a total surprise.  Anyhow, during that stage of my life, I felt liberated.  There was something positively tasty about thinking that this could be it…and it wasn’t.  I remember sharing this thought with some of my older friends who were in their 80’s at the time, and they laughed.  They said that when you are as close as they are, there’s no relish in that anymore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a mom of two wonderful young daughters.  I don’t take any pleasure in thinking about my own impermanence anymore.  I frame my life in terms of their needs.  Sometimes, I even think of milestones.  I heave a sigh of relief that my girls have been fiercely loved in their formative years, and I hope, Harry Potter style, that my love has infused them with super powers.  Then I think, well, they’ll need me in high school.  They’ll need me in college.  They’ll need me when and if they have children.  Is there ever a point in which a loved parent’s absence is A-Okay?  Kind of like the decision to have children in the first place, there’s never a “good time to do it.”  There’s always something else we need to do to prepare.

Well, tomorrow I am going to dive in a little, in hopes that I can get that “tasty” feeling again, and not take a single moment that I am still here for granted.