Author: Meg Artley

Utterly lost and occasionally found yoga teacher, artist, writer and big-picture thinker. Not necessarily in that order.

Grace Comes in a Surgical Vest

Flak Jacket

My new uniform for a few weeks

At the beginning of this week, I explained to my classes that I was going on medical leave. I kept it as La Di Da as I could.

In each class, there was a person who waited until all the other students left so that he or she could ask about my diagnosis. I was honest about breast cancer and my need for a bilateral mastectomy. The reason I didn’t announce this diagnosis and treatment as I sent around the healing stone at those final classes is that I didn’t want to trigger someone with my news. So many women have had breast cancer. Someone in my class has either had a scare, had it, or had a close relative or friend who had it or died from it. In my classes over the years, I have had students who have shown up in their compression sleeves having conquered it or in their head scarves as they lived with its treatment. Soon, I’ll join their ranks as I return to community practice.  (Can’t wait!)

La Di Da doesn’t mean repressing hard feelings. Getting to this surgery wasn’t a breeze. I grieved by painting watercolor portraits of my breasts (yup, never sharing). As I painted the line, the form, the shape I allowed myself to reminisce about how I felt about them as a early teen, how they served me well as I fed my infant children, or of beautiful garments that showed them off. I thought about the meaning of breasts in our culture and in others, about sexuality and objectification. As I finished the last painting I thought about how much space I had created for healing by honoring and packing these old breasts away.

Today, as the grace of healing is just pouring down on me, I’m glad I made some room for it through grief. I have been treated by excellent doctors and compassionate nurses. I have a family and a community of people who call, write, text, and show their love and support in so many ways. Tom has emptied my drains, kept up with my meds and has been a constant companion through all of the prep for the surgery and will be there as we await a call about the pathology, next treatment steps and final surgery to complete reconstruction.

UrsulaI’m even grateful for this white surgical vest with its exaggerated cups and industrial zipper — it looks like something Madonna wore on the “Virgin” tour — and my handy-dandy drain belt in matching white Velcro. The first time I undressed in front of a mirror, I said, “Hey!  Don’t I look like Ursula Andress in that Bond movie?”  And Tom, because he is a beautiful soul, agreed enthusiastically as he prepared my shower.

 

 

Healing Stone

Stone

This is my healing stone, given to me by friends and Iona, who invited me to a lunch last month.  As we parted, Deb invited each person to share healing energy with me by holding the stone in their hands for a brief moment. This past week, I’ve told my students that I’ll be on medical leave for at least four weeks.  This is the longest I’ve been away in 7 and 1/2 years.  I’ve brought this healing stone with me and have had students share their energy with me after a juicy practice.  I will ask Tom to bring it to the hospital room with him when I am in recovery mode so that I can feel the love and light of my friends in the palm of my hand.

This past three weeks, I’ve taught from Yoga Sutra II:16:  Prevent the suffering that is yet to come. How? Find equanimity.  We can use our bodies to find balance. Working to step on the earth in such a way that there is equal weight in each foot. Shaping the breath in equal inhales and exhales. Using the body and breath to step back from your thoughts and be the witness rather than the participant. From this place of equanimity the present moment holds peace, spaciousness, joy. In the beginning of our practice, the glimpse of this space is so fleeting, but with time it grows big enough to hold our suffering and to know that suffering will end.

This is grace.  We’ve got all the  we gifts we need to receive it: body, breath, mind, heart and spirit.

Thank you for your healing thoughts and prayers.

 

 

Awake Curious

Sober Curious
I’ve read two articles about being “sober curious” in my hometown paper in the past month. As someone who chose to stop drinking in April, I feel buoyed by the fact that there are others who are curious about living this way. At the same time, I feel as thought I’ve caught the latest fad, like Whole 30 or mom jeans.

In April I was working with the concept of “awake” in my classes, asking my students to be fully awake to their experiences – not to push them down, deny them, numb them. To meet anything that came up in their bodies, mind and spirits as a gift – a ground – in which to find a path to calming the fluctuations of the mind.

Meanwhile, each weekend, I drank alcohol. Monday morning classes were hard. By Wednesday, I felt better, slept better, had more energy because I didn’t drink during the week (and that was hard!) But then I systematically dismantled this sense of well-being with each glass at Happy Hour on Friday, cocktails on Saturday, and glasses of wine with Sunday dinner. It was a pattern of behavior it took me quite some time to recognize and then even longer to stop.

Each sober curious person has a story about how well they feel when they finally stop drinking alcohol. Mine is this: When my diagnosis came, I received my news with the equanimity that comes from being awake. I’m already practicing letting go and being honest and these practices are really handy in  the face of challenge. I am comforted that my intuition had already started me on a path of healing.

To prepare for healing through art-making post-surgery, I have been practicing with watercolors, something I’ve never quite liked to do. (Kind of like those nemesis poses we hate to do, but those are the ones we need so badly.) With watercolors, you have to plan for the light before you start. A good practice for healing — find the light then work with it as your focus.

When I saw this picture by Tom McCorkle in the in the Food Section of The Washington Post on Wednesday, I wanted to paint it because of the light.  I didn’t want to drink it.

All is well.

La Di Da

La Di DaA good friend gave me this tee shirt off her back. I’m going through a health challenge right now which will mean that I will have to stop teaching yoga and art for a just a little bit beginning in August. My friend is a bit older than me, as are the people I have the privilege to know through the classes I teach for Iona. Older friends have taught me well. Health challenges are part of living with the body as it ages. These challenges don’t define who we really, truly are. They are best met with a “La Di Da.”

My yoga practice of only 14 years is as comfortable and comforting as a worn-out tee and is there when I need it most. I feel grounded and calm, though I’m having to make tough changes in my life to accommodate healing. Every time I find myself worrying about these changes or predicting the outcome of my diagnosis, I label it “thinking,” and return to the beauty of the day outside, or the preparations I’m making for my art class tomorrow; making blueberry muffins or enjoying conversation on the porch with someone I love. Letting go of predicting the future, making plans for the worst or the best or the unforeseen, is a bit “La Di Da,” but it is necessary to healing and wholeness.

Since my life’s work is about helping people find healing and peace through yoga and artmaking and I won’t be in the studio for a while, I’ve decided to turn back here to an online community. It’s been a while since shared connections I found between these practices (like this, and this and even this.) If my energy allows, I plan to teach from the heart right here. Who knows, I might find myself recording the fantasy class I’ll take when I’m able and share it with my friends here. The theme? Living the “La Di Da.”

What to Wear

Dress, Pen and PencilIt was 7:30 pm and I was exhausted from sitting on the studio floor in yoga teacher training; my fifty-something hips and knees crackling  their complaints as I crawled in the car and pressed the gas to make it up Prince Street.  A glow to my left drew my eyes from the road.

The store manager knew not to place anything around the mannequin in the softly lit window as big as the store.  The line, the form, the shine said it all.  A black and white gingham skirt — full, but not too full so as to be a costume,  and of the highest quality silk, I could tell from the shimmer of the threads.  Cinched by a black band at the waist, topped by a sheer black blouse and topped with a white Peter Pan collar, it said classic and whispered sexy all at the same time.

And then: reality as cold as the rainy blacktop that would carry me home.  I don’t go to places that require this kind of dress anymore. I have retired from a life that would require this kind of fancy…or sexy.

When I was 18, I learned how to dress to achieve.  Upon getting my first summer job at American University, Mom took me to get work dresses — 5 of them — from the old Garfinkel’s store on Mass Ave.  I loved one so much I wore it almost every Friday as a celebration.  It was the same silhouette as the dress in the window:  full in the skirt, the top close to the body. This dress was sleeveless and the creamy tan and black polka-dotted cotton with a small white collar and big black bow highlighted my summer tan.  I wore it with red linen peek-a-boo pumps.  The dress was imbued just the type of cloaking mechanism a teenaged needed for her first receptionist job.  When I put on that dress and those shoes, I was efficiency and friendliness personified in my little receptionist box; answering an incessantly ringing phone as big as toaster oven, its big plastic buttons flashing urgent messages to me as I approached my desk in the mornings.

When I hit my stride as a real boss, it was the era of the power suit — long jackets with padded shoulders and short slim skirts above the knee.  I owned one from Saks — again thanks to Mom — that was a creamy pale blush silk with mother of pearl buttons.  I wore it with  an ivory shell and paired it with a pair of nude stockings and nude pumps.  I spent a small fortune on Hanes control top panty hose in those day to wiggle into those body hugging skirts. The suit was pulled from the closet for high level meetings with the president of the college or presentations to the Board.  I was smart, sassy, outspoken and deserving of that big promotion despite the lack of any real experience running an admissions office.  The blush suit telegraphed that I was managing it all — a two year old at home, a new marriage, a big job. The suit was as short-lived as the promotion.  It must have gone to Goodwill after I had my second child.  It had become silent and unimportant in my life.

Maybe it was family life that makes it impossible for me to remember any other fancy clothes as clearly as this suit.  The task of dressing in the mornings was rote; performed quickly after a too-short shower, heart pounding and skipping beats from early coffee and the anxiety of bus stop, dog walk, lunch money and traffic woes.  Maybe it was the fashion of that era.  Nothing seems memorable and shopping was worse than going to the dentist.  I worked for a Catholic women’s college as an executive at this time and everything about that gray place, including my fashion, could be described as “dowdy.”  I made bad fashion mistakes, purchasing a linen suit so that I looked like David Byrne on his big suit tour, or buying shoes from Payless.  Thinking that the cheap white long-sleeved polyester blouse from Loehman’s wouldn’t feel like saran wrap when the static radiator heat pumped into my gothic office in mid-winter.

How many bad black winter coats did I go through?  Why did I feel the need to do such damage to my feet?  Bloody heels, such narrow toe boxes that my feet had to unfurl in in my slippers while I cooked the evening meal.  How come I still can’t find a decent pair of black wool trousers?

This past month I’ve transitioned my wardrobe to winter things, bringing out my remaining sweaters, all six of them, only two worn consistently.  The other four are from my past life working in much more conventional places where I didn’t sweat a lot or have to get up and down on the floor. This year, I’m letting go of those sweaters along with the gray wool trousers with pant legs as wide as Trump’s and a back-gap that lets the breeze into my ass crack when I sit down.  I’ll finally bid adieu to the kicky black wool skirt and the polyester wrap dress from Dress Barn, bought more than 20 years ago. Also:  the open-toed, four-inch strappy heels.

My minimalist dream is that eventually all my clothes will fit in one drawer. It is slowly turning out to be that way thanks to my new life as a yoga teacher.  My clothes are a cross between a uniform and a coverall for a life of practice. I have chosen to dress for my most authentic self. And that beautiful dress in the store window? Not on me, not any longer, but it does take up some space in my imagination and in my journal this week.

 

 

 

Transitions/Transmissions

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Magpie. Mixed media on canvas. 30″ x 30″

Last month, I spent time in all my classes unpacking this quote, which Pema Chodron writes so eloquently about in The Wisdom of No Escape:

Keep the sadness and the pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the joy and the vision of the great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.  

Chodron says that when we can remain aware of suffering — not in a state of denial about it, and not drowning in it — then all of life, everything we do becomes a sacred ritual. I’ve asked my students to view their asana practice from this place, experiencing, living, cherishing each joyful and challenging moment on the mat.

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The Story of Tummo and Abel. Mixed media accordian book.

Now it is time for me to live fully into this practice. Throughout the past year or so I’ve spent my creativity establishing a new way of being in my teacher’s seat and being in sangha. Now that Yoga=Union has been incorporated and I have a Board and volunteers to bring this vision to fruition, it is time to return to my own proper cup of tea and find the time to integrate art-making back into my journey once again.

These are the last pieces I made as I completed by 300 hour certification in 2017. The crows called me to make a nest for a proper practice, to play in the wind of change and pierce the veil between experience and true self to find union.  I followed my heart. More transmissions to come, I’m sure.

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Dhumavati Ma. Mixed media on canvas. 10″ x 10″

Cooperative — more a way of life than a business model

Yoga Equals

Big news.  We’ve had our first official Board Meeting and we’ve drafted our Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws.  From a foundation of compassion and inclusion, we will offer quality teaching and support to professional yoga teachers through transformative programs including continuing education.

As we take this step, we will change our name.  We are no longer the DC Yoga Co-op.

Why abandon this name?  First, we want to avoid confusion with two wonderful online communities of yoga teachers in the region.  The Yoga Co-op DC and the DC Yoga Teachers Collaborative are doing great work getting the practice out to people in the community, communicating workshops and classes and offering a forum for teachers to pose important questions and receive answers from peers.

Secondly, a cooperative is a very specific business model and as we have worked with teachers in the community, we see that our aims and purposes as an organization are much more charitable and educational than profit or benefit sharing.  There is so much more we can do together to bring quality yoga teaching and transformative education to local communities.

Finally, we’re here to serve communities and teachers from around the region — not just the city. (And maybe even farther beyond? Dream big, we say.)

We chose a name that reflects the passion we have for in-person community and the connection we have through this practice.  We wanted to reflect the fact that the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit seed word “yuj” meaning “yoke.”  Right in the middle of our name, we placed a symbol of what excites us mostan equals sign that is a constant reminder to break down barriers that divide us as yogis, yoga teachers and as people on this earth.

Dear friends and colleagues: I introduce you to Yoga=Union, for short in conversation: Yoga Union.

Yoga Teachers: want to be part of Yoga=Union?  Sign up here for news and information you need as a teacher, like debriefs of educational events – you have our promise that we won’t spam and we won’t share your information.  And follow us on Facebook and Instagram for information on upcoming social and educational events.

Next:  More Norma…Ray of Light. What Yoga=Union will do for local communities and yoga teachers.

On Insta soon:  Meet our Board and hear their thoughts and aspirations.