Fitting in

There’s a poem that was read to us at my Lifeways graduation that is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. From time to time, a new line stands up and takes notice, helping me to guide my actions. The part that is humming for me now is this:

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Lessons on grace, from Anne Lamott and Frank Zappa

Today, I remembered the great quote from Anne Lamott that says, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” We all do this from time to time, and perhaps now even more than ever. Imagine if we didn’t back our opinions with the self-righteousness of God?

Then, there’s this: my brother in law’s friend told me this story that his mom told him. One time, a crazed fan broke into Frank Zappa’s house, wielding a gun. Zappa had company over, but took it in stride. He offered the gun holder a beer, and a seat, and everyone sat down to talk. Then he said, my friends and I were just getting ready to do this ceremony in which we say goodbye to something. Can we do that?

They went to this pond in the backyard, and everyone started saying goodbye to their attachments, by throwing something into the water. Frank Zappa threw something in (a sandal? a book? The details have been lost). Then he looked expectantly at the guy. He looked at his gun, said *@!& it!, and threw the gun into the water, and left.

Imagine meeting your attacker with such smooth grace. There have been many stories like this circulated, although perhaps not with such a personage as Frank Zappa at the center. I don’t even know if it’s true, but I like to think it is.

What could be possible if we didn’t assume things about people? What if instead of reacting, we offered the proverbial olive branch (or beer) to someone that we perceive as an attacker? If you have a story about this, please leave it in the comments.


Yoga for Depression

I’m finishing up an excellent book, Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way by Nancy Liebler and Sandra Moss. I am not currently depressed, but I certainly have been in the past. Actually, I was first introduced to yoga about 20 years ago when I went through a severe clinical depression, which included a hefty dose of anxiety as well (as depression often does). Yoga is, and has been a touchstone, and a first line of defense when depression and/or anxiety looms.

A little more on that, because this is a topic near and dear to my heart. For many people who get out of control depression, anxiety may be the first sign. If you find yourself acting and thinking more intensely than normal, take care. The body and mind get so wound up, that eventually, the system shuts down and depression may result. Think of it as a car engine overheating. If you’ve ever driven a really crummy car, or series of (as I did for an entire decade of my life), you may have experienced this. First the gauge starts to show that you are getting too warm. If you are a reasonable driver, you may decide that you really need to get somewhere, and maybe you will see if driving slower will still get you there, or to a service station. You turn off the air, pray you hit no stoplights. Eventually, you either manage to fix the problem, or you break down. This process is very like the reality of unchecked anxiety. If you don’t slow down, and regroup, you may not make it to your service station. You may just break down, which is when anxiety turns to depression. Having a daily yoga practice is an excellent way to keep on top of how and what you are feeling.

In this book, the authors offered a great overview of the different types of depression, some Ayurveda informed practices to support the different types, lifestyle changes, and some sample case studies to use as examples. If you find that depression, sadness, or anxiety loom heavy on your heart, I encourage you to find human help. If depression is something you revisit periodically, try reading the book before you are in crisis. You may discover what your early signs are, and be able to minimize your next event. More people have experienced depression than you know. And when you make it through, I urge you to be a light for others who are caught out in the dark. Having made it through, I feel like it is my duty (and a welcome one) to look out for others who may be stumbling, or have succumbed.

If you have never experienced depression, don’t try to cheer your depressed friend up. Just sit with them. Honestly, the best thing you can do is to acknowledge their pain, in a spirit of empathy. There is a wonderful Brene Brown video on the difference between sympathy and empathy. Watch it. Being there means everything.



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.


Inspiration of the Week

From time to time, I come across something truly extraordinary. Last week’s inspiration was so timely and sweet, it’s been with me this week too. This was printed in this month’s issue of The Sun, and it’s a poem by David Budbill from the collection Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse.

Bugs In A Bowl

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled

Chinese poet of a thousand years ago said:

We’re just like bugs in a bowl,

All day going around

never leaving their bowl.

I say: That’s right! Every day

climbing up the steep sides,

sliding back. Over and over again.

Around and around.

Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl,

head in your hands, cry, moan,

feel sorry for yourself.


Look around.

See your fellow bugs.

Walk around. Say,

Hey, how you doing?

Say, Nice bowl!


If you’ve got a poem that has just landed in your heart and set down some roots there, share it with me in the comments. Nice bowl!

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.


Clairvoyant, I’m not

I have many excellent qualities, but clairvoyance isn’t one of them.  But no matter how many times I tell myself I don’t know the future, well, I think I know what is going to happen.  For many years, I’ve told myself, prepare for the worst, so I can be pleasantly surprised.  This, I’ve realized, is just one more way for me to justify my tendency toward catastrophic thinking.

Being a worst case scenario thinker isn’t all bad.  One benefit is that I tend to adjust to difficult situations quickly.  I don’t lose my head when something legitimately awful takes place.

What’s the flip side of that though?  Perhaps a tendency to give up too easily.  Because I don’t stretch myself as hard as I could, maybe I achieve success too readily, like a hurdle jumper hopping over uncooked spaghetti, conveniently distanced 2 feet apart.

When something is hard, if something isn’t working out, are you too quick to drop the thing you are working on?  Acceptance is good, but if you are flinging yourself into the lap of failure, calling it “being realistic”, are you doing the best thing there, or are you doing yourself a disservice?

I often fall back on the “realism”, on the worst-case scenario, into the status of someone who gracefully settles into failure.  And, I do it all because the first thing to pop into my head is where I think something is going.  Oh well, it must not be meant to be.  Sometimes that’s true, and you don’t want throw energy at everything.  You only have a finite supply of energy and time.  But, perhaps, acknowledge and accept that you don’t know the future.  A bad day is just a bad day.  One day, everything is crap.  The next day, the world has opened up.  A phone call, a good cup of tea, a hot shower, a walk, even just a good night’s rest could be all that is standing between you and progress.  Sometimes, it’s just your mind.

I am reading Perfectly Imperfect by Baron Baptiste, and I love it.  He says:

Every student has his or her no pose…But you actually don’t know for sure that you can’t do that pose.  What you’ve come up against isn’t necessarily a physical limitation.  Resistance can be very deceiving behind the many masks it wears.  Maybe you haven’t been able to do that pose in the past, but what about today?  The yogis say you can never step into the same river twice, because the current is always shifting and changing.  You’ve never stepped into this exact river before today…

How many of us know people who act as if their assessments, personal opinions, and judgments are truth and fact?  This is a common phenomenon.  It is no surprise that people who view life as if their subjective assessments are The Truth have difficulty forming an empowering relationship with the practice and with life.  There’s no room for new possibility or perception if you are locked within your perception, holding it as the cold, objective, unmovable truth.

Today, there was something that I perceived as hard in a yoga class, and I didn’t want to even try.  I could see that a bunch of people around me didn’t want to try either.  But then I remembered this good reading I’ve been doing, and I decided to think, YES.  I will try.  And I did it.  And it was awesome.

Who knows what’s next?  I don’t know, and you don’t know.  We never step into the same river twice.  Even if the water was the same, we wouldn’t be.

News and Gratitude

First off, I wanted to let you all know I’ve got some classes in the works coming up.  I am launching a Full-Bodied Yoga series out of Willow Glen Yoga, beginning in July, with a smaller crash-course intro in June.  I will let you know days and times when it has been put up on their website.  Full-Bodied Yoga is perfect for anyone you know who has a larger body, and/or flexibility challenges who could benefit on working on their alignment through the use of modifications and props.

I also am now teaching a mixed levels Vinyasa class at Downtown Yoga Shala on Wednesdays at 12 p.m.  This class will be faster paced for those who want to get in a heating, and energizing practice to brighten up their midweek workday.

Finally, I recently read a quote which I just love and thought I’d leave here, attributed to Gautama Buddha.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die, so, let us all be thankful.