strange divide

 
My first cousin died last week. She had breast cancer. It was an aggressive kind. It started with a bug bite that wouldn’t go away, turned infection that turned into enough of a nuisance that she went to the doctor where she was told the bug bite is one thing, but the mass they found is another. She died a year later.

She would have been 60.

When I told my kids their cousin died they squinted to recall who she was. “Did we ever meet her?” I strived to describe the less than a handful of occasions that they may have — my wedding to their stepdad on a boat ride around the intercostal in Florida; maybe that time we went to San Francisco (where she lived) for a bar mitzvah; or two years ago at my mother’s 70th birthday. She wasn’t there. By they met her daughter.

It occurred to me that it wasn’t that they didn’t remember her, it was that they didn’t know her.

When she died my mother texted me. I was about to take a bath and I sat on the edge of my bed with a towel on my lap picturing her face and her dark curly hair. When was the last time I saw her? I had vague memories of walking through Bergdorf’s in New York City when her first daughter was born. She was a new mom. We leafed through the sale rack while she nursed her baby daughter in the dressing room. I was at her house once. It was over the bridge from the city, and even if I tried I could not remember what her kitchen looked like, her furniture, or what hung on the walls.

I cried when I got the news she passed away, but I still took a bath and taught my classes. I did walk into the kitchen to relay the news to my husband. He was in the living room watching Sports Center with our son. “My cousin died,” I said in the doorway with the towel still in my hand. The air felt as if it had just been punched. It was then I cried and walked back into my bedroom. My husband followed and sat beside me. “I am so sorry,” his eyes were sweet. There was nothing else to say. I felt sad for losing her and for not knowing her enough and now it was too late.

The rest of the day felt slanted as if a constellation had permanently shifted. I was affected, if in anyway, energetically. I hesitated to share the news of her passing with friends or students. I couldn’t bear the forced sentiment of a pained face for the brief seconds the news of her death deserved — only for that expression to fade as soon as our conversation ended with the student walking away grabbing for his phone.

This same week a close friend texted me that her mother suffered a massive stroke. I read the text in my car as I was backing out of my garage on my way to a private in the pouring rain. “There’s this strange divide,” she wrote, “between normal life just moving along and this other “thing.” I knew exactly what she meant — those moments in my life I have woken up to news that irrevocably changed the course of my day, my week, my life. There is the me who is aware of what must get done – I must make my kids lunch and drop them at school and teach my class and write this email but these things are not without the knowledge that something has happened that makes these daily tasks seem no longer important or even relevant. But also makes these daily tasks seem more vital than anything in the world.

And on the same week, another dear friend shared that on a bike trip through Italy one of the friends she was traveling with suffered a fatal heart attack and died on the first day of the trip. She was riding ahead with the wife of the friend who died. I pictured my friend, so poised and thoughtful and in pain in some beautiful part of the world. In honor of their friend whom she described as a “passionate cyclist,” they continued on with the trip. I imagine the potency of that silent ride as they made their way through the foothills of Tuscany holding the grief of their lost friend, and his now widowed wife. Being home was where she reported the loss felt the hardest.

And this too: A woman I knew, an old friend of my husbands’ who once took a train to have dinner at my house in Connecticut — just had a double mastectomy. She was documenting her experience on Facebook. I have been following her pre and postoperative condition. She recounts her journey with such tenacity and elegance, I felt my own body twitch when she describes the “spacers” in what are now the holes where her breasts used to be.

And this was all just last week. Not to mention the faces emblazoned on the news of young children whose small bodies are perched up against wire cages like puppies in a puppy mill. The outrage and rants pouring out on the social media feeds I am following were hard to scroll past. My only comment: “unfathomable.” The, there is nothing to say in the face of all this that people endure and endure and endure as I wake up and find the energy to take out the garbage and sit with my son while he does his homework.

Life in all of its beauty, it’s immense deep colorific beauty— especially right now with the garden boxes on my tiny urban balcony boasting with color and productivity; with the sun finally shining hot in a city that spends more than six months shrouded in gray and cold—Life is never not fragile, is never not marching on in spite the illness, that fall, that crash, that being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It makes me want to put my head down, place my hands on my heart and be better.

mothers pray

The other morning, I opened the refrigerator to grab the cream for my coffee and with the carton still in my hand, I was seized by worry. Thoughts entered my mind like a vapor and I had an urge to pray. Holding onto the handle, with the fridge door still open, I leaned back a little, squeezed my eyes shut and I prayed.

Please, let things work out.

I was worried about things: My children. Their happiness. Their safety. Our precious little life. I notice this happens from time to time. How prayer visits me when I am doing the dishes or putting the leash on the dog or taking the potatoes out of the oven. Anytime I realize I am here and my children are no longer at arm’s length, I close my eyes.

Please, let things be ok.

Last week, there was unexpected news. It wasn’t tragic but it was enough to stop me in my tracks and ask a higher power for help. There was old worry that came seeping into my life like an unwanted solicitor. The older my children get, the more that I pray. I pray that I never get phone calls or blood tests back or knocks on my door that tells me there is danger, there is pain, there is something wrong and I am so far away.

I pray for protection as they make their way in this world — this world that will inevitably and not so gracefully at times burn them, hurt them, roil them, test them — they way it has burned, hurt, roiled and tested and reared me in different ways, and at unexpected times. I pray to help my children stay clear of the burn. To have them learn their lessons, but not the hard way.

I pray because that is what mothers do when they can’t fix what they wish they could. I pray because I can no longer lift my kid up on the counter to kiss and make it all better and send him on his way the way I used to when a scraped knee sent him running, open arms toward me. It is so hard not to have that power anymore. To not have proximity.

I pray because I have learned as I have gotten older that prayer feels way better than worrying about things I can’t control.

That prayer gives me something to do when there is nothing I can do.

That prayer is my best attempt at helping myself not go there.

It is the thing that says this may help somewhere between the joy of becoming a mom and the hazy confounding mystery of what it takes to be a mom. It is the antidote to the self-punishment I inflict for not saying the right things in the right way. It is the pause that picks me up by the collar and tells me I can try again when I have failed at tuning the dial just right that would deliver the right tone, that would dispense the wise advice that would have the pre-cognition to know not to say anything but to just stand in the doorway with the bigger nervous system when my young son breaks down over what he can’t have, or my middle son side steps over what he might afraid to handle, or my eldest sleeps through what is too difficult to face.
Prayer holds me up in the doorway.

I think of my own mom. I am only seven years older than she was when she lost her mother. I can’t fathom seven years ago without my mom. Without her closeness or her guidance as I went through divorce, or biopsies, or moving again.
I can fathom, maybe a glimpse a taste of what it must feel like for her to watch her now adult children make their way in the world that can burn and sometimes break our hearts.  And I wonder if sometimes she prays for us before she pours the cream in her morning coffee.

My truth on water fasting

I am on day two of a water fast. Words I never thought I would write.

I have done some juice cleanses in my past which I remember being uncomfortable and irritable for the first few days. I wasn’t eating food but was flipping pancakes and making lunches for my kids and trying not to think about the coffee I didn’t have or the leftover meatballs in the fridge — But I had six hearty juices and nut milk to sate my craving for salty or sweet.

What I wouldn’t do for a nut milk. Words I never thought I would write.

Water fasting is a whole other thing. The idea came to me via my husband who is a bonafide bio-hacker which means that on any given day I arrive home to a brand new discovery he has learned and adapted to nurture our bodies to its highest functionality. As he installs a top of the line water filtration system into our home adding potent minerals drop by drop into the canister that holds our now prized water; and prepares all of our pasture raised farm to table meals; I enjoy the second-hand smoke of his healthy choices and happily benefit.

It was my idea to initiate the water fast though. The decision came after a weekend I spent eating artisanal donuts and making popcorn and drinking Shiraz for dinner. My husband was away on that particular weekend. And in all honesty, it wasn’t the lapse in judgment in my diet which I can often forgive and allow on occasion; it was this emotional call to move the existential boulder out of my way — this huge weight in my gut that derailed me from getting past my old shit. I was sick of my persistent low-level anxiety– A feeling that some people on my Instagram feed understood. We reply “amen” with clapping hand emojis to the daily quotes that speak to the source of our lack. Today, I want you to think about all that you are instead of all that you are not. 432 likes.it.

I figured removing everything — all the distractible tendencies including solid food would force me to stand still, slow down and lean into this gloom and heaviness — in essence, learn about all that I was.

Before day one, I read everything I could about fasting: The history that regaled this age-old tradition as at one time a necessity because our ancestors did not have the luxury to eat three meals a day nor have copious amounts of food at their fingertips the way we do. Fasting was part of our lineage and thus our bodies still had the wiring to acclimate to the lack of caloric intake. I read up on the science that praised the importance of something called autophagy, where our bodies’ cells go into clean up mode and erase all the built-up toxins and waste to lay the ground for renewed energy. Apparently, our cells can’t do this when they are buried and distracted by any major digestive event.

I watched YouTube videos of a young man who water fasted for five days. After 36 hours he admitted he wasn’t hungry anymore, but time seemed to stand still. “Time definitely feels like it’s moving slower. There’s much less urgency.”

I enjoyed one woman’s blog who reported that on days 2-3 she felt like she had the flu, but days 4-7 she was positively euphoric. “Energy came back with a vengeance and hunger disappeared. I was easily at 2-3x my normal productivity!”

Reading with an obsession about my impending famine I liken to the way I read about What to Expect When Expecting when I was pregnant with my three children. I scrutinized every symptom, sensation, and compared what I felt inside to what I read. If I could just know, was the source of motivation for reading the same lines over and over again, then I might know when this baby will arrive.

My husband reminds me that reading about others experiences fasting while understandable could set me up for disappointment. “Let your experience be yours.” He was right even if I tried to tame the part of me who believed if I could just know maybe I would be able to deflect the impending pangs of hunger.

Let’s say this, hunger is hard. And it’s painful. And for me, there was a profound lump of loneliness to this feeling of need. The first 36 hours I suffered. I was glad I took the day off because on day one I could barely get out of bed much less face the energy and demands of teaching yoga. I could barely tolerate people in the elevator next to me when I willed myself to go for a walk to ward off the persistent fatigue and fog.

Doubt crashed in announcing that this was a very stupid idea. I was ten hours in. I felt isolated and out of synch with my child who ran into our home asking for his afternoon snack. I trembled buttering his bagel. Chugging cold water no matter how mineralized and pure was a temporary and lame excuse for nourishment. My mind was not fooled. When are we going to chew, Tracy? When are you going to feed us something salty? I am cold.

Thirty-Eight hours in I decide to go tanning. Words I never thought I would write.

I consult my dear friend, an Ayurvedic teacher and talented intuit who has a lot of experience with cleansing. “Lean in,” she told me. “Nourish like crazy.” She gave me permission to add things in like tea and broth for their grounding qualities and to soothe my mental battle with copious bathing. My first sip of hot tea felt like cheating. Her soft advice about self-massage and loving myself through the pain was welcome but part of me perceived these remedies as weak responses to the loud sensation that was begging for a hot meal. My expectations reminded me of that demon half crushed underneath the foot of a smiling Shiva. I was the demon trying to be Shiva.

“Just really check in,” my friend texted after I confessed my struggle, my thoughts of caving. “Is it your ego deciding or your deeper wisdom?”

It took a lot of leaning in to decipher. It helped that my husband was profoundly supportive and while he had a less strenuous fast, he reminded me that it had been 48 hours of just water. “There is no failing,” he said.

We decided last night to make broth. Just the smell of onions softening in our dutch oven and the way he soaked our kale and diced the turnips were indulgences felt to my core. The presentation of a modest bowl of soup set in front of me, a profound relief. It was time to transition and I trusted that. This morning that trustworthiness dispensed all kinds of virtues into my system. It was the same life but seen through the eyes of a much lighter, clearer woman.

 

If you are interested in fasting safely or to learn the most effective ways to nurture your body to higher health my two beloved gurus on the subject have courses happening, click below:

Alchemy of Health: Modern Detox for Modern Yogis Workshop

Lila East End Yoga

 

My dad is Jewish and my mom is a vegetarian.

Years ago, when I was in the throes of a fervent Ashtanga Yoga practice — one that cast me to India for a month, one that had me wearing purple saris and posting pictures of Indian gurus on my refrigerator; one that influenced what I ate and drank— evidenced by some of the contents of my fridge during that time— a large glass jar of ghee, soy milk, carob almonds. It’s no wonder when my eldest son who at around six when he was asked by an acquaintance his religion he replied, “My dad is Jewish and my mom is a vegetarian.”

I am reminded of this story today as I spend time searching online for a family friendly Haggadah to use for Passover Seder I am hosting. I want the book to be relevant and lively and reflective of my current family’s values —a kind of modern-day rendering of the story of Exodus that might spark more than vague curiosity from my nine-year-old son who grew up with his dad and me teaching Yoga and singing chants about Hare Krishna and lighting altar candles for our impressive bronzed deity collection. I wonder, today if he too was asked about his religion if Jewish would be his first or only response.

After scrolling through a few elaborate pages of various pdf files, I settle on a Haggadah compiled for an interfaith family despite the fact that everyone attending my Seder is Jewish. I chose it more for its aesthetic simplicity and coherent storytelling than for its cultural politics. I chose it because unlike the glossy beige generic four by six booklets I grew up leafing through, this DIY Haggadah has warmth. Someone put a lot of time and love into assembling the pages of songs and ceremony and It fulfilled an urge I had for my son to understand what the story was all about. Why are we doing this? Which is a fair question since my nod toward my faith pops up only intermittently in my son’s life—the occasional family Bar-mitzvah, and the lighting of a menorah during Chanukah which is set near the counter behind which a fully decorated Christmas tree stands, something I consented to since my Jewish husband grew up having a “Chanukah bush”.

Passover in my family was about as reformed as it gets. I suspect my mom who grew up conservative felt a loyalty to her Jewish upbringing. She plopped our tired Haggadahs on our plates where the lump of gefilte fish sat with the bright red horseradish bleeding onto the rims. Reading the Haggadah was a rushed affair. Rather than spend hours recounting this age-old story of our peoples’ freedom from slavery which was something many of my more orthodox friends were obliged to do, my dad in his effort to ward off everyone’s hunger complaints, assigned random parts for us to read out loud. He skipped pages, and paragraphs and whole parts of the Seder ritual. Which I find ironic since the word Seder itself means “order”.
Despite the haphazard way I understood the whole ceremony, it made enough of an impression on me that I find myself wanting to reenact it every year around my dinner table—including the abrupt edits of the community reading.

When I was in India during my devoted years of practicing Ashtanga yoga, I walked to the shala in the early morning hearing the Brahman’s chanting of the Vedas over a loudspeaker. The voices seemed part of the warm breeze that blew the leaves of the palms trees and the dust around the dirt path I walked. Regarding the Vedas, I learned later on, that it is not in the words where the meaning and potency lies, but in the ritual of chanting them out loud. Brahmans believe that singing the Vedas are what keep the world going.

The Passover Seder, like yoga, brings a ritual into my life. One that not unlike my yoga practice, I have adopted and adapted to keep a kind of faithful order going. My Seder is perhaps less about the words themselves and more about the doing it. My dining table transforms into an altar. The parsley, the egg, the salt, the Matzot, the wine, the candles – They are also transformed from ordinary things into something meaningful where for today they each become a part of a greater story to tell.

Reentry

Two weeks ago I posted pictures of a retreat I led in Colombia on Instagram. Each day — a beachscape. That sunset. The frothy, wild open sea. The smiles and warm hugs and the camaraderie around the breakfast table that made up the group whom I have since coined my Colombia family. Seventeen of us moved in harmony like a school of fish— and I posted picture after picture which curated our happy story.

“Re-entry” is what people call coming back from retreat. People talk about how hard it is. After all, we were seventeen strangers who flew thousands of miles to make a home in paradise and live off the grid where the biggest pressure for the day might have included wondering when I might walk the thirty steps off the beach to indulge in a mango ice pop before lunch.

“How does it feel to be back in reality?” Some asked me when I returned home. I thought about the people I had grown to love so deeply in such a short time. We were still sharing photos and sentiments and checking in on our respective re-entry. “Funny,” I answered to those who asked about coming back. “I think where I was, was the reality.”

I realize the gift of retreat life is seeing the potentiality in our human heart. Take me away from the social and cultural pollution and distractions and place me at the edge of the world where a tameless ocean and the curved trunks of the palm trees and the wagging tails of beach dogs and the working jungle ants carrying leaves on their sturdy ant backs, and the big snake that passed me by while walking in her path, and the invisible fleas that loved our skin — were our great gurus.

I thought about the big vertical frantic leap I took when I saw that huge striped thing slither a few inches from my muddy shoe. “Snake!” I yelled to my friends’ who were behind me.
The shaman with his machete came close to the snake and asked us to wait. The jungle seized for the moment as the snake lay still on the path. “Is it poisonous?” Someone asked. The shaman had a way of speaking that disarmed my western neurosis – a mindset that was already imagining the worst possible outcome.“As long as the snake is not scared, the shaman taught us, It’s ok. But if the snake feels afraid, then it could be an issue.”

It was weeks later when I realized how true that is for humans too.

A few days into my reentry I was thrown into a seismic crisis that made reentry a whole other kind of adaptation. It was no longer about adjusting my eyes to a cooler light nor my body to a more hurried pace. My reentry demanded unwavering strength, it wasn’t patient nor did it allow me to ease back into my life but like the massive current of that open sea where my feet dug and clung to the wet sand and withstood this massive force that wouldn’t think twice about taking me down — I had to hold on. I thought of that water, the current haphazard and unpredictable — I was a small swimmer at her shoreline. At her mercy.

The shaman told me on the last day of my retreat that when a snake comes to visit it is a sacred thing. Snake spirits are blessings. I slung my bag into the taxi that would take me far away from those palm trees and that iris sky and those long loving meals with my newfound family and snake spirits. I bought a single feather earring from the shaman’s wife and a strand of colored beads hung around my neck.
“You are snakes,” he told a few of us women standing around and hugging goodbye. I almost laughed thinking how we used the word snake in our culture as a derogatory name. I realized he was paying us a great honor calling us snakes. “The snakes.” He said, “Are the protectors of the water. And the water is our mother.”

It is wisdom like that which offers me comfort right now. It comes in moments. But the point is, this kind of strength comes. I feel it rolling and churning and letting me know that if I need it I can move out of the way and receive it.

Why write at all?

It’s terrific Tuesday, the nickname I give this one day of the week where I have nowhere to race to anytime soon. I have hours stretched out before me until I have to get dressed and I guard these hours with vigilance. I do not volunteer to sub classes or leave the radius of my neighborhood on Terrific Tuesdays. It is reserved for something I have come to value as priceless — doing nothing. Or in the case of today —writing —which to my frustration lately feels interchangeable with doing nothing.

I attempt to write about a conversation I had with my son back in July when we were outside on my balcony wearing tank tops and sandals.

The piece isn’t going well. I am no longer clear why this exchange impressed upon me some kind of necessity to write about it, but as I sit with my laptop staring into endless space I consider this idea questionable.

He tells me he has regret over a major time in our lives. What comes to me is hearing him say, “It wasn’t worth it. I delete a description of his shoulders and his hand gestures. It feels off to write about body language. There’s something else I am scratching at. There is some other reason my consciousness solicits me to write about this point in time. But I am off key. I don’t know for sure how I know that or even if I could trust my judgment — it’s just a feeling that overcomes me. The creative process feels both haphazard and yet, necessary.

I stay with the piece despite my confusion, my ambivalence, my utter hopelessness — feelings that derive less from this little scene I am writing and more from thinking about my other work, my manuscript which is saved in butchered sections somewhere on my icloud. This used to be work that I took as far as seeking representation. Work that I am on the verge of letting go of. Retiring. Forgetting about.

Does my writing need to lead anywhere? If my writing never gets seen, published, celebrated does my writing exist at all?

I am not that far away from slamming my laptop down and giving up. Especially when my thoughts deliver existential doom: What is the point of this? Where is this going?
Is this worth it? I could be doing other things with my time.

I am pulled back to the balcony and my son. I stay. I wonder what is underneath this? I remember his face. I write, his past still haunts him. I write about how I want to knock the heaviness off of his back “I have learned to be tough,” he says to me in a kind of it’s me against the world way. I want to challenge him. To change his mind about what tough really is.

I wait for another arrival of words to come out of the air and press on the feelings that stayed with me long after our conversation. I go back to that deck. It isn’t enough to say that I was sitting beneath him, crouched on the deck. He was in the chair. It isn’t enough to say that I almost interrupted him mid-sentence. It isn’t enough to describe how worlds were moving inside my body to accommodate for the space a mother needs to provide for her grown-up son to voice his truth.

That feeling. (There has to be a better word than feeling). I trudge through to find specificity. The detail lies not on the outside- not on the deck chair nor the way he held his hand over his glass. The scene is inside. The being of this world and myself. A presence that whispers (and sometimes shouts) how this moment matters, it reveals, it is the world beckoning for me to take notice of how much of life there is to take in. . . and write toward.

I am sorry. Thank you. I love you.

This morning my husband asks me if I used his razor.

“No,” I lie.

“Are you sure?” He asks again. He treads carefully. He wants me to come clean but he also knows if he pushes too hard I might turn against him—a behavior I have been known to resort to in some cases like when the moon is full or I when I am being irrational. He knows this about me. He also knows that I am trying no longer to make this be the case. I want to be better than that.

He approaches me more as friend than foe. Despite my mounting guilt, it does not go unnoticed that he is doing an exemplary job communicating. This is one of the many things that I love about my husband. He is always self-improving.

I, on the other hand, feel as if I have just slipped back in time. No longer the vulnerable open-hearted wife that I have nurtured into existence over these past months — I was now sixteen years old with only two choices in front of her: Keep up with my lie or get in trouble.

I grab a sponge from the sink. “Well, I did use it but it was a while ago.”

He wants details. “What would you say a while ago is? Three days? Yesterday?” He stands in the hallway and I am a few feet away at the counter. I search my memory and retrieve the moment I used the razor and tried to match the scene with the day of the week. Was that Wednesday? Would that be far enough back to claim it was a while ago? I change the subject. He walks the dog. I look down the hallway and decide to vacuum.

I drag the vacuum out of the closet. Was it so hard to tell him the truth? Was it too uncomfortable for me to face an innocent lecture on hygiene? Or was it an unwillingness to surrender to one of life’s greatest prayers:  I am sorry. I think about the enumerable playdates I hosted at my house over the years. Stubborn children with crossed arms. A broken toy. Me standing there pleading. You can say it, I would cajole. Just say I am sorry and you will get the toy, the cookie, the remote control back. . .

I think about the time I used to rip tags off of purchases after my husband asked me not to spend money. “Is that new?” he would ask when I walked into the kitchen wearing the new sweater or a pair of boots he did not recognize from our life before. “What, this?” I deflected. “I bought this a while ago.”

I cannot tell you how many moments in my life I wished for a do-over. The moments I wished I had reigned in an impulse, put the credit card back, the phone down, did not hit send, asked before taking. It is only now, being older, and calmer, and less likely to be thrown around by life’s crazy pushes when I see the spaces in my day where I can be better to the people I love.

It isn’t always perfect.
Sometimes I take without asking. I fib. I lose patience with my mother. I remember her telling me she used to do the same with her mother. I can hear her in the kitchen getting short with her on the phone. “Ma! Enough already!” Her mother died when she was 40. This week I turn 47. I tell my friends who are a decade younger they are approaching the best decade of their lives. I mean it.

Maybe all the years of breathing on a yoga mat. Of being practiced. Of noticing myself in relationship to everything and everyone around me. At 47 it is easier to admit I am wrong. That I don’t know. That I made a mistake. To stop explaining myself. It is easier to accept the consequences of my actions because I am less likely to act without realizing the weight of a consequence. I am more able to see the ripple effect of my words, how they can trail into generations ahead. I more apt to pause, constructively. To keep my pulse in the future I am bumping up against. This might feel better right now, but what about in an hour, a month, a year from now?

And as for the moments that I regress, those times I welcome a visit from that me of the past who still likes to take charge and stomp around the house with her fists in the air. I tell her I am sorry I wasn’t more present for her when she needed me. I tell her we no longer have to worry about seeking approval the way we used to no matter the cost. I thank her for showing up until she softens in my arms, quiets down and lets me love her.

Teaching With My Husband

When I started writing this it was 80 degrees in Chicago. Summer was in full swing and it was mid-October. I sat in a chair in my living room facing the window and should have been delighted that I was still wearing a tank top and sandals. But, I wanted to feel Fall happen.

Yesterday morning on Instagram I posted a picture of my husband and I. It was to promote a new training we had recently inherited. I scrolled through the days, then the months, then the years of my life to find a photo. There we were, four years ago, sitting underneath a windowsill beside each other. There we were at the helm of our old yoga studio— sitting on wide plank wood floors, cross-legged, the small murtis that are now scattered on shelves in my Chicago apartment, are silhouetted behind us. There we were smiling and teaching together in a country town in Connecticut. While it was a beautiful time, it was also a time of chaos and instability. We taught an obscene amount of classes. We were building a bridge as we were walking upon it.
At the time of that picture, we were used to what our life was. Hectic at times. Very full. And charged with energy in every direction. We could not know what was to come. We had no idea that that space, that time, our togetherness, our work would change, would evolve, would twist and turn into something very different.

For these past four years, I watched my husband stop the momentum of everything he had ever known and grow
quiet. I watched as he turned his lens away from the public yoga world, and toward the simple quietude of our home life. With the same exuberance he was known for in his teaching, he devoted his brain power, his efforts and his studentship to creating a truly healthy home. I evaded the answer when asked the question, what is your husband doing?

When our young son was diagnosed with special needs, my husband took the time to read, study, and investigate what diet, lifestyle, communication, modalities would help our son thrive. He learned about food akin to achieving a doctorate in nutrition. He wrote what may be the equivalent to two cookbooks. He read up on Biochemistry, took a class on Embryology and Biology. There were books with new titles and articles flagged on his computer. He learned the latest studies in Neuroscience. He prayed. Meditated. Cooked. Wrote. Journaled. Documented. Rested. Played. Healed. He never stopped learning. He was the leanest and strongest and clearest he had ever been. I watched before my eyes my husband become more patient, softer, and more devoted to living a healthy, happy life. And the people who were closest to him, namely our son and me, benefitted most by the example he set. Our lives grew to become simpler. Artful. Less stressed. I watched my son grow more confident, and resilient and comfortable in his skin.

I didn’t always have that point of view. At first, I took my husband’s sabbatical personally. I carried on. I missed my teacher. I missed being his student. I ached for the feeling that overcame me when students experienced his teaching. In time, the ache wore off. Surrender can go a few ways. In one fell swoop. Or in incremental pieces like sunburned skin shedding day by day. I stopped fixating on his return to teaching. I stopped making suggestions about what he should do and started turning my lens toward my own work and my place in this new lifestyle. I calmed down. I was less demanding of my life and more grateful overall. And the small things like being at home became one of the great pleasures of my life. I started to see how little I needed. How much I had. The teaching felt richer and truer.

In two weeks my husband and I will co-teach a special advanced training for yoga teachers. My husband will teach some cherished new things for the first time. Perhaps I had quietly wished for this and the universe said, here ya go. I hadn’t expected the delivery to come into my life quite like this, nor did I expect that we would be back sitting alongside each other in these roles.

I find myself giddy, grateful, and vigilant of caring for this moment as if I were holding something priceless and fragile. I find myself so happy for the students who are taking this leap with us and for what is in store for them. I find myself preparing for this training by doing nothing less than deeply caring for my home life, something my husband treasures. I tend to the practices of mothering my son, of being a wife, of tending to what is needed without being overtaken or overrun by the tasks this new exciting project has brought into our lives. It’s ok. I want to manage it all so differently now.

I have been here before. I have had over a decade of teaching alongside my husband. But it feels new. More tender. Flickering with possibility. It’s the same feeling about wanting Fall to happen right now.  I know what it feels like on my skin, I have looked at that autumn night sky before— but the way I see now, the way I am is not at all the same.

For information on what we have in store visit: www.advancedvinyasaytt.com 

(Em)bracing ourselves

It’s all gray skies and thick August air in Chicago today. When I walked my son to his bus for his second to last day of summer camp, there was a trace of Fall sneaking through the low clouds. The air wasn’t cool but it wasn’t warm either. The summer feels like it is prepping for its inevitable goodbye.

Next week marks my two-year anniversary move to Chicago from Connecticut. Two years? I remind my husband, who not only looks like a different person; (he used to have dreadlocks down his back and is now shorn and clean cut); but he is a different person. We both are. Our hair, our bodies, our lifestyle, along with our relationship, our yoga, and our careers look nothing like they used to.

Two years ago I thought I would take a break from teaching yoga full-time. Instead of sitting in front of yoga students which is what I did for nearly eighteen years, I sat for hours on my living room couch alternating between writing a memoir about a pivotal time in my life and staring at the pale green walls of a city apartment wondering when my life would feel familiar again. (The memoir is on hold for now, but stay tuned for an excerpt to be published soon.)

I applied to graduate school. I knew how to do school. I stopped telling people I was a yoga teacher because it felt like everyone I met was one and it mattered to me that I differentiated myself from the pack. I didn’t consider myself an exercise teacher which was how I perceived most people thought of yoga nowadays.

I got deferred from the grad program. Not rejected, not accepted. But deferred. Something, after getting over my initial hurt, I considered poetic since I was coming to terms with the fact that deference was my usual MO. I always had a way of attracting people who had a penchant for saying to me “I will take care of it.” The truth was that graduate school was me grasping for a new shiny identity to replace the one I had temporarily felt estranged from.

But today, right now, two years later, things feel different. Aside from my living room walls that are now bright white, and the couch that is facing a different direction, and my fading angst over finding a more prestigious if not stable career—I have made peace with where things are. Arriving at that was not a sudden or even linear event. It happened gradually. No longer comparing my present with my past took traction. It took facing feelings I could no longer avoid. It took seeing how to brace myself for life’s unexpected blows would take training, patience and willingness to grow things within myself that I may have never really had to. It took riding a rhythm of effacing to the point of transparency to becoming thicker skinned.

As usual, my ego made my transition so much more difficult than it needed to be. This obstinate layer of myself stomped around carrying on about needing to feel more important, without stopping to see that I had bypassed the stuff of my life that all my years of yoga were pointing me towards all this time. I learned I was good at softening. I appreciated developing the inner muscles I needed to make eye contact with people even amidst feeling squeamishly uncomfortable in my new life. When my ego trip subsided, my shame and need to hide or embellish became a thing of the past.

Ram Das said something like there is a great relief that comes when we use our hands for something other than holding up walls. Commensurate with my arriving at a quiet, undramatic acceptance, I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking pot. None of these choices felt like disciplined restraint. They came from a much sweeter place. “I deserve this glass, this puff suddenly evolved into “I deserve not to have this glass, this puff.” I stopped looking away from what was hard to look at. The old structure no longer felt true anymore. I stopped deferring the large tasks of my life to my husband who for the better part of our marriage had the skill set I never credited myself with having as much. And soon, there was this incoming rush of intimacy, a closeness that I had been missing since my move. Today, my marriage feels the most alive and exciting and healthier than it has ever felt.

I enrolled in a writing course, a year-long meditation training,  a beautiful online workshop that challenged me to put down my armor and do the work. I started putting butter in my coffee and adopted a regimen of supplementation that now requires a pill box organizer. For the first time in my life, I opened my eyes to money management and numbers. I embraced my teaching life commensurate with changing my Instagram profile, planning an international yoga retreat, and creating a new vision of a higher level yoga training. I know there is no promise of these things delivering what I dream. But I practice tensing the mental fortitude necessary to ward off my doubt and flex whatever necessary to not for a single second give energy to the old parts of me that didn’t believe I could. If discipline is called for, its applied to the moments I am caring and generating a more positive infrastructure. Rather than doubt, I ask how can I help myself be better?

My body weighs in (no pun intended), it craves and pulls me to try things I have rejected or never considered embracing. Weight training feels to me the way asana felt twenty years ago. There’s something about holding weight in my hands. About learning to pull my weight in a simple but profoundly humbling pull up. My husband once taught that the word guru in Sanskrit can be defined as weighty. I think about that every time I hold this cannon like 16-kilogram kettle-bell over my head and manage the shaking that comes with that.

“Control the negative,” my trainer says and he’s referring to the moment I lower the weight down. But I find it hard not to think of how that bit of advice is life long wisdom.

On those moments

I am writing this from my bedroom in Chicago. I am sitting in a leather club chair that now fills the space where a 108 pound Saraswati statue used to sit for the past two years. I kept this statue close by for nearly twenty years. She is now on her way to a new home. I did not have a chance to document the moment my husband hoisted the thing down to his car and drove with her to the post office. I walked into my bedroom and she wasn’t there anymore and I thought I would feel something bigger about that but I didn’t. What came to mind was the time I watched Buddhist monks spend days making an intricate mandala out of colored sand. They knelt beside this enormous installation for hours and blew colored grains into the design. It took hundreds of hours to complete. It took minutes, if not seconds to dissipate into the air.

Last week when my older sons were here I didn’t get one shot of us being together, something I have made a practice of doing (then posting on Instagram with hashtags #mamasofsons). It must be slightly off putting from their perspective to scroll their feeds and see their middle aged mama posting selfies on a regular basis. It’s just weird, my son says.

When I dropped one of my sons at the airport last week he grabbed his bag out of my trunk and I said, “We didn’t get one picture!”

“That’s ok, mom,” he said. “We don’t need it.”

I watched him walk through the glass doors with his headphones on and proceeded to take a photo of the airline departure sign. I will never get used to saying goodbye to my kids, was my caption.

I have made many attempts in the past few weeks to write something, anything. In my last attempt entitled “rambling blog” I wrote about the week of my sons’ visit. “It was family dinners at home and TV watching and dog walks and intermittent arguments about getting off the phone. It was me calibrating to the new feeling that comes with accepting that my older sons are now visiting me and no longer living with me.”

These days, the question how did I get here so fast is often on my mind. The coming and going of moments seem so much faster now. Moments I look forward to become memories in an instant.I think about writing them down. To capture the ways in which I am seeing these moments flash by my eyes. The thought that gets sparked by the certain way I look up at the sky. That feeling when my son is no longer in the passenger seat and I am driving back to what still feels like a new life even though it is nearly two years since I moved.

By the time I sit to write, the words that once danced around in my head are gone. I am empty. But not in the good Buddhist way. In their place resides an onslaught of criticism. Coupled with a lot of frustration. If I were really a writer, I would be writing every day. If I were really a meditation teacher, I would be sitting every day. I look at the stack of books I have yet to finish reading.

Recently, I registered for two online courses. I wanted to be part of something. I wanted another booklist. More content to accumulate. My life has winded down to the quietest place it ever has been. This is a good thing, I think. Two minutes later I feel guilty about all the time I have on my hands. I am antsy and impatient. I am trusting and centered.
I am a changing family.
I am eating differently.
I use oil on my face now when not too long ago I would have balked at the idea of using anything other than astringent.
“The truth is always changing,” my husband has told me before.“It’s dynamic.” I think about the dishes I picked out on my wedding registry over twenty years ago and how today I would not pick those same dishes.

I recognize that old tide of doubt that rises within me when I am about to start something new. It used to stop me in my tracks. Now, I proceed, often with my hand on my heart. The teacher from one of my online courses posted an urgent forum speaking to the hundreds if not thousands of us who shared our nagging fears about our futures. When will we get to the other side? We were all so paralyzed by the same questions. We all doubted ourselves in one way or another. We were halted and yet our lives were brilliantly drifting along. Dense. Fleeting. Invisble.

Toss your doubt aside, the teacher said. She looks like someone who was practiced at doing that. At not letting her doubts ruin a perfectly good vision for life.

Last week I gave a lecture to new teachers entitled Soul of the Teacher. “Practice trusting your own soul,” my husband suggested. I showed up with my favorite poems. I came to listen. The women echoed back to me their own fears. The wanting to know. The wanting to grasp. The wanting to have certainty. I loved them so much for admitting out loud what I wondered about too.

If I trusted myself more, I would no longer question if I was enough.

This from Mary Oliver:
…though I play at the edges of knowing/truly I know/our part is not knowing/but looking, and touching, and loving/which is the way I walked on/softly,/through the pale, pink morning light.

And this from Parker Palmer:
…there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged.

I believe in muses, the way a stroke of genius ushers itself into a body at the exact perfect moment and if not pulled in close, if not recognized or received, it would drift away as suddenly as it arrived. Moments are filled with muses. And my awareness I have come to think of as a great sieve— catching the glistening particles in these tiny openings and draining away the rest.