Sangfroid and Phlegm

For my friends Laura, Cyndee, Barbara, Liz, Ann, Gretchen and all the parents I’ll meet at Freshman Orientation:

As my youngest is about to go 10 hours away to college, I have had to work almost minute-to-minute on a stiff upper lip.  My ancestors were fiery Scots, so the saying “Stay Calm and Carry On” doesn’t resonate.  The only thing that keeps me from collapsing on the floor in a puddle is remembering my sweet grandmother dabbing her eyes two weeks before we returned to Bangladesh every home leave.  Those tears were heavy on all of us.  I’m sure Nana felt cleansed, but my poor Mom was dripping in her mother’s emotion.  It wasn’t fair and I’m trying hard not to do it to my beautiful and talented daughter as she starts another exciting part of her own journey.

So yesterday in Todd’s class, when the intention of equanimity came to me, I folded it at heart center.  I worked on keeping a drishti, equalizing my breath, staying in touch with my edge, dropping to my knees when I needed  to return to balance.  I left practice feeling joyful.

Equanimity is balance of mind; composure that is maintained under stress.  Other synonyms are sangfroid, implying an icy control of the emotions, and phlegm, implying a composure that hides apathy.  It is a careful balance, isn’t it?  To maintain composure but not to lose the compassion that makes us human.  The definition of equanimity carries with it a sense of a habit of mind, not a personality tic or flaw.

Yoga practice reminds us physically of balance, brushing away the thoughts that clutter a mind and make balance impossible.  Skin and bones are tools to reflection and perception, habits of mind and a habit of compassion for all, including ourselves. (This must be why this image came to me as I was recycling canvases.  The blobs of dried paint reminded me of flaws on skin and then the skin called for a…window? My concious mind didn’t know what my emotional body wanted me to understand.)

This week, as we enter another transition in our lives, one that seems less joyful than welcoming these beautiful children into our lives 18 years ago,Thich Nhat Hanh’s words will help us retain equanimity:

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby.  To suffer is not enough.  We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.  They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.

Parental Creativity

…and protected them when the world outside was cold…

My youngest will leave for college in a month and a half.  Part of why I’ve taken up an intentional and active practice in creating art and teaching yoga is because I’m about to release one of our last human creations out into the world.  My “parenting” (how I really hate that word — but nothing seems to work as well in this context) will now happen on text and in email and during holding-back-tears conversations on the phone on Sunday nights.

This might be why in a moment of peaceful clarity I had an idea about writing a children’s book about a couple who raise pumpkins and raise children.  Where the text flowed out into my sketchbook in an evening, I’m now taking my time with the drawings, which I then plan to take my time translating into colorful oil paintings.  I want this creative process to be like raising my children.  Like raising children (or raising pumpkins) good things come to those who take the time, who are truly present, and who let love and positive energy flow through them to help growth. Because what is the goal of being a parent but the process of learning to love profoundly and deeply?  What is the goal of being an artist?  A yogi? Through parenting, creating art, practicing asana we learn that even when things do go awry and they will, they will…  we can always return to the grace of the practice of time, presence, love and positive energy.

Similarly, teaching yoga takes time too.  I’ve just signed on to teach Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:15 am at a studio near my home.  (See the Classes page for the exact details.) I’ve only been there two weeks, but already I find myself blessed with the seed of love taking hold of me — thinking about how this asana might be interesting for one or fun for another or good for them all. We don’t get to choose our parents or our children, and in many ways our yoga teachers are luck of the draw too.  I pray I can continue to take the time I need to be truly present to the students who are that dedicated to their practice to show up early in the morning, and to let the love and positive energy flow through me to them.  Especially in the winter, when rising at 5 am will be a bit more difficult!

From Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life

Sometimes I notice my yoga students practicing their less than favorite poses with a ho-hum attitude.  At these moments, I remind them that although yoga is powerful, it cannot transform us unless we love it.  When we love, we are receptive to the “other.”  When we love, we are vulnerable.  Although being vulnerable can be frightening, it is also the doorway to the ultimate freedom written about in book four, verse twenty-two of the Bhagavad Gita…   ‘Content with what is chance-obtained, transcending the opposites, without envy, the same in success and failure, though performing actions — he is not bound.’ 

Here, Krishna explains what life is like when you are not bound by the attraction of opposites, and that when this state is experiences, there is no reaction to the vicissitudes of life.  When you react, you are not in a state of love.  When you can love without expectation, you are in a state of pure love.  Mostly what is declared to be love is not.  Rather, it is need, or fear, or the desire for power over another person.  Love in its purest sense is not based upon what you get from the relationship, but on what the relationship allows you to give.  The depth of your love is not reflected in what the other makes you feel, but in your willingness to give of yourself.  Love’s job is to lead you to intimacy with what is enduring in yourself and in others. Whether this connection lasts for seconds or decades, love is not wasted.  Through it, you have been transformed.