Yoga Practice

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.

 

What to Expect

Rose

My breast cancer story has come to a conclusion, with my reconstruction surgery last Wednesday.  Now it is time to be there for others who are just starting their breast cancer journeys.  I feel a bit like an imposter since I had stage 1 and didn’t require chemo or radiation, but I have already been pressed into duty by the sisterhood. Like those wonderful strangers I spoke to on the phone after my diagnosis, I will be there to support anyone who needs it.

What can you expect?

Expect grace and actively seek it out. Open up to its descent. Practice staying awake, just like you did as a child before a big, beautiful day. It is there. You feel it healing. Then you will see it everywhere.

 Hmmm…I don’t think I’m going to be very good at this.

You are a warrior, though this is not a fight or a war. You love your body. It didn’t betray you, it is just doing what bodies do.  You are armed with the righteous power of the present moment. You aren’t to kill, but to heal. You aren’t to fight, but to strip your armor and open wide to this experience so that you can heal. 

I think back to the women I spoke with — friends of friends, who were strangers when I called them and sisters when I hung up. I am thankful for their advice, for their willingness to speak about their experience.

The practical advice I received from these women was comforting and helpful. Their lives, their health, their resilience were inspiring. It reminded me of hearing friends’ birth stories when I was pregnant.  The stories were unique, cathartic, mesmerizing and real. They made me brave, but now I know those stories were nothing like mine would be.

The word “grace” in Sanskrit means “that which follows the grasping.”  When I first read this, I thought that grace came after the understanding that I couldn’t control the outcome of my journey.  But the ancients meant the “grasping” of the truth:  that the body is expendable.  It has a time limit.  But the spirit doesn’t.  It is light. Timeless, eternal light that is everything, everywhere.  It is the light that heals.  Pay attention to the light.

See?  I’m really not too sure about this advice thing. Little heavy handed that.  But on the lighter side, I called my tissue expanders my “coke bottle boobs.”  The magnet ports reminded me of the screw off tops, the wrinkles in my breast mounds like the as hard and shiny as the creases on old glass bottles of Coke. Tom and I joked about it because laughter is the best medicine in our family, but there are others who can’t laugh because of what will come after the expanders are placed — months of chemo, worry, exhaustion, surrender.

I am blessed to be me exactly as I am even if my body is cancering. I am also blessed to be exactly as you are, since we are both the same light, reflecting back on itself in a playful, joyful act of love.  No, cancer isn’t a gift, it is just part of this beautiful, terrible life.  It is as mundane and regular as cold, gloomy afternoons and boring business meetings.  All is well if you can be here right now in this present moment, if you can see the light and open to healing no matter what is happening in your body.

I have absolutely no advice on bras.  Still looking for the right one, though my bud Grace told me I would be back in my old worn and comfy ones soon.  I shopped in consignment stores for button downs that covered up my Ursula Andress surgical vest.  I never paid much mind to my breasts, but I had to grieve them when the time came to say goodbye. My dear friend Corinne was there when this realization hit me hard and let me cry a good long time. We will all grieve the physical someday.  Those of us with cancer just get a preview.

I am here to listen, support, encourage and share with you the fruits of grace. Namaste, sister.

1 by three