Yoga Practice

Verticality

We were sold on this house the moment we saw the old oak tree that had gracefully welcomed the house to be planted around it.  It had bubbled up from the ground more than 60 years ago, and the roots still roiled the soil around the massive base of the trunk.  It tapered slightly to the right, giving it the appearance of a much taller tree. The canopy spread as far as the boundary of our yard. All manner of suburban wildlife lived in the tree, and now in our quiet life, Tom and I delighted in our outdoor classroom —  squirrels on the prowl for mates, the mockingbird ‘s officious patrols; the rabbits and their new families; the mangy doe and her twin fawns in the early mornings when the acorns are plenty. A fox and a hawk circled occasionally, looking for baby bunnies and chipmunks.

The tree’s roots became soft and a hole grew at the very base, large enough for small animals to burrow in. We  weren’t worried knowing that the tree generously made space for so many living things, including our children and our funny little dog, and also for inanimate things like swings and Christmas lights. Finally that hole caused branches to die, giving themselves over to insects, which in turn became food for the woodpeckers, the brightly colored ghouls.

Had the tree fallen in a storm, it would have destroyed the back of our neighbor’s house and the evergreens along her fence. We made a painful decision to have it removed. I wonder if it was painful because of our older age, or because of these strange times we now live in. Would I have mourned the tree when I was a 35 year old mother of young children who could finally use the yard for pick-up softball games? I didn’t have the time for quiet watching back then. Now I have solitude and the daily lesson of impermanence. I am so thankful for the sustenance and protection this tree gave me and my family.

Seems cruel to mourn a tree when there is so much human suffering now. Perhaps my grief is displaced. Looking at the arbor of our communal life, I see vulnerability for the first time.  I wonder if we can count on the harvest of goodwill, common good or democracy.

I’m working with verticality in my teaching practice this week. Stand tall, witness from the root of your being. Rise to give sustenance, protection, especially in a storm. Live for others. Think long term, like the trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than Curious

365 days ago, I decided that it was hypocritical to teach about how to achieve clarity of mind.  Especially when I had been working hard fogging my mind every night with a glass or two of wine, and on weekends with my best friend the (incredibly dry) Cosmo.

Living without alcohol this year has been surprisingly easy. Yet, when I see this picture, taken of me at an Airbnb in Genoa, Italy, I am suckerpunched with nostalgia. We were there in April — Rose’ season.  We would have a bottle at lunch or dinner after a day of touring. The food was a revelation, made holy with the taste of wine. There was an Aperol Spritz for people-watching at sunset …an espresso and grappa after dinner. I look at this photo now and know that on April 21, 2019 I made a choice that has taken me away from this  place, hopefully forever. I didn’t know it then, and now the knowing brings about the suffering of the return, which is the etymology of “nostalgia.”

Nostaligia is a lie we tell ourselves about the past. It is rose (or in this case Rose’) colored glasses.

I didn’t make any big pronouncements when I left.  I said I’d be gone just a little while.  I wrote about my curiosity about sobriety and that I wanted clarity — that was the truth I shared here. But if I could have been honest with myself, I also wanted to step out of the putrid light of shame. Not only the shame of not exactly remembering what I said after the second or third Cosmo, but also the shame of wasting the time I’d been given to paddle furiously towards truth, freedom, compassion.

About four weeks after I stopped drinking, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am thankful for this turn of events. It would have been hard to navigate that experience in a fog, blinded by the cold comfort of Tito’s. Just another way that I know that the universe has my back.

Lots of stuff has come up in social media — some funny, some sad — about how alcohol is essential to what we are experiencing now. Here’s my experience that might resonate with you: Pain experienced in clarity has the ability to bring peace, even joy, as you find that you already have all the resources you need to move through challenging times. Celebration is all the more celebratory when you can really live into the moment, really be with people you love, rather than wondering if there is just one more glass of champagne left in the bottle.

This picture was taken by my love on our trip to Costa Rica in February, to celebrate our 32nd anniversary. Compared to the photo above, this pic is decidedly less glamorous.  It might be that my drink, a mango smoothie, matches my dress perfectly. I had one every night we were there in February, each one tasting like the sunset. Glamor-schmamor — it was experienced in the now, where everything is an elixir.

So this is a day for a mango smoothie! There will be other milestones on this journey, I know it. Many thanks to intrepid people who have inspired me on this path and who support me every step of the way — you know who you are.

Jesus and the Wheel

There was a boy who looked like Jesus who was very good at the potter’s wheel in my high school ceramics class. He was lanky and quiet and had eyelashes that were thick and mournful. He was strong enough to set the wheel in motion, and strong enough to focus on the vessel that was becoming in his hands.

I admired Jesus from afar as I worked my clay at the table, making my coil and slab constructions. Arlene Ferris, our teacher, was equal parts hippy and Harley rider with a perpetual unlit Marlboro in her lips. She didn’t speak much to me or Jesus since she had troublemakers and jokers in her classes who soaked up her time. She was the teacher of last resort for so many of us.

I wished I could work the wheel like Jesus. As I sat at the table creating with clay like I was patterning a dress or making a cake, he would work quietly, meticulously centering the clay.  Kick, kick, kick, KICK, KICK.  Water cupped and dripped on the mound.  Hands shaping into balance — pulling up and then working down and wide.  Again kicks for momentum, again with water and motion.  All the while, the clay was becoming centered, strong, ready for creation.

In January, I used “centering” as my theme in my yoga classes.  I remember when I first started practicing, how odd but how inviting it was to hurry up and get to class only to take a seat and spend some time in stillness and the quiet. Like clay on the wheel, we need to become affixed first in body, breath and mind. Around and around reality goes but we find the sweet spot of the now, where the wobbling stops.  We will be pushed up and down, in and out; the momentum of our practice starts and stops in the grip of the center. The goal, as it is for a potter centering at the wheel, is to become strong and resilient on the molecular level so that we are ready for shaping, for creation.

Since my word of the new year is “surprise”, I made my way to Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli’s studio to learn printmaking a few weeks ago. I have always had a mental block when it came to the printing press — perhaps it is a machine like the wheel that I don’t feel I can tame. Marie reminds me of Jesus at the wheel.  She is disciplined and meticulous yet open to the grace of the moment and gentle with what arises, letting her creations have the space to breathe and be and take shape. In other words, she is centered and was as encouraging and wonderful as she has always been. I came away with prints and didn’t give in to the “I can’t do this” mode. Getting home, looking through the prints, I knew what I wanted to do. I picked up my exacto and my shears and found myself once again patterning dresses and icing cakes. I’m not exactly done yet — still discovering in the rubbing, the gluing and the template making.  Momentum, yes, but moving from the center.

Transfom. Further. Off the Mat.

I had chosen “surprise” as my word for 2020. When I say this to folks, I can tell that they are trying to figure out a polite way to ask me “haven’t you had enough surprises already?” And my answer would be, “No.  No I have not yet had enough surprise.”  I am thankful for the kind of surprise I received this summer.  I got an instant reset in beginner’s mind — there was nothing to do but breathe in the moment and be grateful.  I didn’t know what was next and I relinquished control.  I found my center, despite the chaos. And I am transformed by the experience.

 

In 2020, I expect further surprise (can you expect to be surprised? I say yes!) I want to be continuously awed by the world around me — from the two little foxes that live near our back yard to Great Falls; from the jungle of Costa Rica to the northern lights of Newfoundland.  I want to be delighted by the gifts that come from a relationship that has lasted 32 years and excitement that children who are grown and doing awesome things in the world bring to my life. For the way in which my teaching practice will continue to open my heart up to new studios, new clients, new teacher trainees and students, new capabilities, new things to learn.

I will get back on my mat this month. I guess I could spend some time feeling sorry for the muscular atrophy that awaits me after this second surgery. Instead, I’m prepping myself for the amazement that will come as I step off the mat into the world. As I did these small collages at the end of 2019, the universe was telling me that it will be a very juicy experience.

Surprising, Juicy New Year to you and all you love.