Wednesday, April 20, 2016

mother & son (a repost & a hope for my future)

I witnessed something beautiful today. I arrived for Mysore practice around 4:30 and two of my teachers were there- Barbara to practice and Carla to assist those of us practicing. There was one empty mat, which belonged to Barbara's young son, Worcana. He was stalled for quite some time in the bathroom, doing whatever boys of 7 or 8 do in bathrooms for that long. Barbara was patiently waiting for a time and eventually decided to begin her practice. And I began mine- mat down, opening dedications made, ujjayi breath established. When Worcana came out of the bathroom, he hopped a little boy's hop onto his mat and began Surya Namaskar A. Carla talked him through a couple and he bent and folded and jumped with the ease of the unburdened body. It was, as it always is, sweet to see his pleasure.

And then Barbara stopped her practice, she was perhaps 6 or 7 poses in, and began to repeat them. And mother and son began moving through the poses together, she teaching him to respect, to cherish, each one, he smiling with a delight not often seen in the Mysore room. I couldn't help but sneak glances through my own bent and twisted limbs. Mother and child. Practicing together. The mother graceful and serene, the son giggling with joy. Both honoring the other's way.

I was reminded during this practice of something I read recently in Shadows of the Path, by Abdi Assadi. He has an entire chapter dedicated to romantic relationships and their connection to, and necessity in, spiritual growth. But there are just ten words in that chapter that have stayed in my ears and they are the words I heard with every stolen glance and childhood giggle.

Most of us consciously yearn for union with another person.

This is why we fall in love. This is why we have best friends. This is why we parent children. This is why we go to happy hour with co-workers. This is why we join churches or book clubs or running groups. And this is why we practice yoga in yoga centers. It's why we choose to, sometimes without grace, move our bodies into unusual, often unflattering, positions, let other people's sweat splash onto our mat, forgive farts and bad breath, and lie still, with our eyes closed, vulnerable on our backs, surrounded by countless strangers. It's the union that I witnessed between mother and child that was so beautiful. And by my mere glancing, I found a small part in it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

these dreams

Recently, I have been having very strange dreams. Dreams of not satisfying the requirements of my job and being scolded, and humiliated, very publicly by co-workers. Dreams of making poor decisions that lead to my youngest niece being in the care of a stranger, thereby being forbidden to ever see her again. Dreams of putting all my belongings curbside to sell and then refusing to sell anything to anyone. I thought these dreams were about fear of failure, which is not something I’ve spent much time grappling with in my life. I’m pretty comfortable fucking up and not being perfect. 

With the help of some wise people, I came to realize that these dreams were about loss and the deeply-rooted self-blame we all somehow seem to attach to it. I don’t think we even know we are doing it. It seems like, as humans, we are quick to blame external forces for everything. We lose our phones, it’s because our bag is just too packed full of stuff. We lose our friends, it’s because everyone is busy. We lose our jobs, it’s because the economy is in the toilet. We lose our shit in traffic, it’s because that guy in front of us was talking on the phone. But deep down, we feel it as our loss. We are frustrated with ourselves for having a messy bag. We feel guilty that we didn’t call that friend more often. We wonder if we would have made it through lay-offs if we had been just a little more friendly at lunch. And truth be told, we were also talking on the phone in traffic.  

Recently in class, a student asked “why do we do inversions? what is their benefit?” After listing out all the physical benefits, I paused. There is more. There is more than just nourishment to brain, strengthening the pituitary and pineal glands, releasing the effects of gravity on our internal organs, and relieving constipation (yes, that’s right).   Inversions are also about taking risks.  They literally turn us upside down and make us very, very vulnerable. Many people hold back from inversions simply because they are afraid. I can rock some pretty cool inversions, but to this day, I am unable to do a forearm stand without the knowledge of a wall behind me because once, once, like six years ago, I fell over. And I really mean knowledge of the wall. I rarely even touch it, I just need to know it is there. 

And so I began to wonder. Perhaps these dreams are about fear of loss. Of having good things in life, like work and family and belongings, and losing them to something unknown, the blame for which I have somehow internalized, somehow owned. 


As a Yogi, my first go-to when exploring something like a series of distressing dreams, is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra 15 in Book 2 reads:

To one of discrimination, everything is painful indeed, due to its consequences: the anxiety and fear over losing what is gained; the resulting impressions left in the mind to create renewed cravings. 

What I love most about spiritual teachings, is their resurfacability. We learn them, study them, live them, and then we tuck them away into the corners of our worldview. But, here and there, they creep out, dust themselves off, polish up their usefulness, and remind us that we have the tools to do what we need to do in life. 

Suffering was manifesting itself through my dreams. I needed to understand this suffering. I turned to Yoga, a practice in which I find great meaning and comfort and, there it all was. Everything I needed to make sense of the dreams, everything I needed to make them stop. And they have. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

i would drink from the fountain of youth

Let me respectfully remind you, 
life and death
are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by
and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to 
Take heed:
Do not squander your life.

--The Evening Gatha

i would drink from the fountain of youth
not to live forever
but to slow the passing of days
another day gone
and today i didn’t feel the touch of a lover’s embrace
another day gone
and today i didn’t hear my niece’s voice, a sound that makes my heart weep
another day gone
and today i didn’t feel the sun warming my face or the breeze rustling my hair
another day gone
and today i didn’t tell anyone i love them, not even myself

i would drink from the fountain of youth
not to live forever
but to have enough time to figure out if i am really living at all
this day and yesterday
and the one before that
did i live them?
or did i just exist in them?

i would drink from the fountain of youth
because one lifetime cannot possibly be enough
thirty eight years of searching
looking for my truth
thirty eight years of aging

maybe i already had my drink
i have been blessed with a youthful way
the table of women near me in a restaurant last night
although we were born in the same year
looked a decade too old
hair and body and clothes and conversations meant for older women
women of an age i do not feel 
where was their sensuality
their zest and flair
drinking wine and eating previously frozen pie 
complaining about the men at home they seem no longer to love 
the children who seem only to get in the way
laughing at their common disappointments
i wonder
have they found their truth?
have they lived today
or do they just exist, too?

yes, i would drink from the fountain of youth
sip, slurp, gulp
i would let it flow over me
into my pores 
through my hair
over my breasts
and between my legs
and i would look for my truth in the water streaming away
carrying skin cells and hairs and dirt from the day
i would collect it and drink that too
giving my self back to myself
a gift from the past
to relive and discard
again and again
so that time never has to move forward

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

dreams caught (8)

the worst part is that I move so slowly
I should be frightened
     by the thousand pounding fists
     by the thousand screaming voices

but I just lazily roll over
as if coaxed by a lover's touch
     by his warm breath along my neck
     by his warm hand along my thigh


when I awake I am already sitting
in darkness
panting with fear

Friday, August 24, 2012

dreams caught (7)

the road split
lifted by a thunderous roar
a stranger’s arms wrapping my waist,
so completely his hands met again at my back

pulling me
my heels dragging
my nails digging
my mouth sobbing

more afraid of leaving 
than of the hole that appeared

Saturday, August 11, 2012


some people have key rings filled with keys- heavy, jingly, bulging, obtrusive keys.
i cannot imagine how so many keys are necessary.
what could they possibly open?

the back door to a secret lover's house...
the never opened lock box filled with ancestral betrayals...
the fence erected to protect azaleas from roaming critters...
the shed that provides escape from and escape to...
the gateway to an imaginary land, ruled by dragons...

i am down to three keys.
only two serve any purpose, function as necessities in my daily life
the third locks something forgotten, but i can't seem to throw it away.
what if, someday, i find the lock, and behind it are all the joys i have been missing?
or, perhaps, some day, i will discover that this key will seal the lock on all the places i no longer need to visit.

key rings fill as lives fill, empty as lives simplify.
they are a collection of meaning, evidence of the complexities and intricacies of our daily lives,
evidence of existence, of living in a world valuable enough to lock.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

the crazies

Change is coming. Birds are hatching, animals are being born. Grass is growing and flowers are budding. People are falling in and out of love, having babies they have waited a long time for and babies they never planned on, changing jobs, changing careers, changing from coats to jackets. Change is thrilling and it is foreboding. It requires effort, whether to make the change or to continue to live despite it. Change is necessary, yet terrifying. We simultaneously look for it and avoid it. 
I am leaving NYC in just a few months. Leaving my home of 10 years, my job of 8, my friends of what feels like one lifetime in a lifetime of many. Leaving my practice, my teachers, my ways of living. The choice to leave comes from a deep unsettling, the knowledge that stagnation has set, the path has been laid, for all its glories and defeats, and though my feet valiantly carry my heart, no limb or organ is truly satisfied. It’s time to shake things up. 
A brief sutra lesson: The first book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (written about 2000 years ago) is called Samadhi Pada. It is a guide book to samadhi, the ultimate goal and final limb of yoga.  Think liberation, freedom from the mind’s limitations and controls. The very second Sutra says “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”. It teaches us that to reach samadhi, we must still the “mind’s stuff”, the crazies, if you will. So, Patanjali is telling us that to reach liberation from the crazies of the mind, we must first still the mind through yoga. 
As humans, we are actually naturally inclined to do this. We get our thoughts together before we make decisions. We take deep breaths, count to ten, make lists. We establish order in the mind. Stilling the mind-stuff, in the way Patanjali taught, takes this natural human condition further. Keep a still mind to reach liberation from all potential disquiet. To keep a still mind, concentrate on one-pointedness. Disallow distractions or interference. Refuse the crazies. 
So, let’s get this straight. To reach samadhi, one must practice yoga through cultivating one-pointedness of the mind, thereby disallowing any of the crazies of the human mind to interfere. A kind of keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize mentality.  
A story... 
There was once a family man who, in order to provide for his wife and children, did not rule out harming others. He felt justified in this, as he was taking care of those he loved, and he assumed that the ramifications of his harmful ways (karma) belonged only to him. When a great sage became his intended victim, he was suddenly faced with the insight that his family would suffer the same ramifications of harming others as he. This scared the man- he wanted his wife and children to have pure karma- so he asked the great sage for help.  He was instructed to set aside all of his worldly duties- fatherhood, marriage, provider- and focus his mind solely on Ram. The man did this and eventually, through single-mindedness, cleansed his karma and his family’s karma and became, in his own right, a revered visionary of Rama. 
A lovely story of cultivating a still and tranquil mind through the pure concentration on one thing of importance, in this case, the worship of Ram. He kept his eyes on the prize, didn’t allow for interference, and he and his loved ones were all the better for it. 

But what happened to everything else? What happened to the man’s family? Who took care of them while he was cultivating his mind? Who cared for his wife and brought food to his children? What happened to all the worldly stuff he was responsible for and invested in? 
If we are to still the mind’s stuff through a single-pointedness of the mind, what happens to everything else? If my intention with moving, my prize, is a good job and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else? If my prize is to fall in love and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else? If my prize is to be the best yogi I can be and all my attentions go there, what happens to everything else?  If we live a singular life, what of the rest?  Where does single-mindedness end and stagnation begin?