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.

 

On knowing when

I am writing this from my living room in Chicago. I am surrounded by shelves of yoga books and small bronze Hindu statues perched on the window sills. When I moved here with my husband and son two years ago, we not only moved out of a four-bedroom suburban house, but we also moved out of our yoga studio filled with numerous altars and art and crystals and books and all the various artifacts that made that space feel sacred.

For two years now, my bedroom has looked like a makeshift Hindu temple. I wake up to a three-foot bronze statue of the goddess Saraswati. She once stood like a maternal guardian at the helm of the yoga studio and for years she watched over students practicing yoga. We lit candles and incense around her and chanted her name. At the time, I wasn’t sure what the rules were around caring for statues of this size. It felt like it was important to nurture this prominent thing who seemed to raise the vibration of the space she inhabited. Now, she sits a few inches from the foot of my bed where my husband and I drink coffee, watch tv, read, and sleep.

I found Saraswati when I was in India over thirteen years ago. It was a transitional time in my life. I was newly divorced, a young mother of two, and amidst (or thinking I was amidst) a kind of spiritual awakening—case in point, I was in India shopping for Hindu statues that I knew so little about. Saraswati stood hidden under a white sheet next to a crowd of large Shiva and Ganesha statues. I walked around the store eyeing each statue as if I were trying to get to know them on a personal level.
“I want to find a deity,” I said to the shop clerk.
“You don’t find deities,” he said, “deities find you.”

That was exactly the kind of response I loved back then. I was besotted with all things I didn’t yet understand but was pulled by this inexplicable force to keep searching, keep questing, keep trusting what was underneath this undeniable pull. What was guiding me? What was I looking for? I was fueled by a feeling. I peeked under the sheet and there was that feeling.
“That’s Saraswati,” the store clerk told me. “She is Goddess of speech, the Goddess of art.” Bingo.

Saraswati took a month to arrive at a shipping port in Queens, Long Island. She spent another week locked away at some mafia owned dock until I paid a large fee to release her to a delivery company who would drive her fifty miles to the front door of my first yoga studio. I placed her inside the practice space spotlighting the side of her crown. She was a curvy bronzed mesmerizing thing, and she added antiquity and an air of mystique to the shiny new floors and Halogen lighting. When students asked about her I always said, “She made quite the journey to get here,” thinking about her boat ride from India and the shipping port and the container she was packed in for weeks; but I was also referring to my own journey from stable wife, mother cared for and secure to a kind of irrational, free-spirited, fanciful (and emotional) dreamer. I had no idea where I was going, but I was going.

Saraswati became the subliminal inspiration for everything I taught. When I heard her origin story—that she was once a river who dried up and became your breath—I understood what the shop clerk meant when he said deities choose you. Here she was, perfectly placed, and inspiring the many breathing, flowing bodies that came to practice yoga and find themselves. Here she was, a muse, a beacon, a sure-footed form who seemed to move elegantly with the pace of her art. She reminded me of all that lit me up in life — personally and artistically. Her story teaches me that the art of our lives is to be discovered amidst the making of them.

Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, I walked into my bedroom and said to my husband that I thought it was time to sell her. Here she was now, crowded between an orange love seat and a dresser of drawers. I had that feeling that something was misplaced. I investigated that feeling. I recognized it. That pull to move.
“She doesn’t belong in here,” I said to my husband looking around my bedroom. I knew she should be among artists and music makers and poets, somewhere she can nurture the many and not sit here like a stagnant relic of my past. I wasn’t so concerned with keeping her form with me anymore and I have no idea why I knew that for sure. It was just time. Just that feeling.
       

Trust me. Go this way. Hold steady. It’s okay. These are the words I hear right now when I close my eyes, put my hand on my heart and take a breath. Perhaps I heard these words all along. The words that have been guiding me to do, to go, to move, to stay despite not knowing why or where I would end up. The words that helped me recognize that Saraswati was the deity I would take home, the same words that I heard when I recognized she now needs to go. Saraswati has always been to me about finding the words. I kept her close by as if she was responsible for dispensing some kind of verbal transmission.

It’s time. I wince at the thought of this statue collecting dust. It’s as if she is looking at me and saying remember my story— one I know that does not end up in a private bedroom watching over my husband and I as we check our email and get ready for the day. Hers is a story that lives on in the hearts of the artists of the world and in the voices of those willing to see their lives as the offering.

Equanimity and loss

I am writing this from my couch in my living room. I am looking out the window at a dark day. The temperature dropped twenty degrees. Yesterday, when the sun was shining my dog of ten years was still alive. I spent most of the day home lying on the floor with my him and saying thank you. My husband and I took turns crying and thinking about what this big black beautiful creature with the droopy eyes and perfect face had given to each member of our family just by doing what he was doing right at that moment – being there through everything. This morning I woke up with that thud of awareness that he is no longer here anymore. His dog bed is stripped and vacant. The shift in weather is so right I want to hug mother nature for giving me the exact sky that matched my gloom.

In the last few months of Walter’s life, when his body was declining, his back legs dragging and paws bloody, his hips sloping. his city walks cut short by his refusal to take another painful step, I asked my husband, “He will let us know, right? When he’s ready?” And I looked at Walter curled on his dog bed in the kitchen which was one of the only places he could get comfortable anymore.

This past week, for an assignment of a course I recently enrolled in, I was to reflect on the word equanimity. Joan Halifax describes equanimity as “The stability of mind that allows us to be present with an open heart no matter how wonderful or difficult conditions are.”
Most of the students posted photos of their beautiful drawings and poems and gorgeous notes reflecting on what they felt equanimity was. I kept thinking of Walter.

“I think he is ready”, my husband said two days ago. “We are the ones holding on.”

Ram Das’ guru the great yogi Neem Karoli Baba was a famously large man. It was said that his love was so strong that he had the power to absorb people’s pain and diseases so they would no longer suffer.  Dogs are like that — great absorbers, keepers of all our stories, big-hearted gurus who could care less how we show up. Only that we do.

Walter’s passing was quick. We brought him from the car to the vet. We were ushered into a quiet room. There was a jar of square turkey treats on a table and a green blanket on the floor. I was expecting candles or some prayer on the wall but there were only posters of dog anatomy and warnings about getting your animal tested for this disease or that. Walter was panting and nervous and we were already sobbing before the catheter and the medicine and the sudden way his bloated chest went from shallow heaves to no movement. “His heart stopped beating, the vet said and Walter’s head lopped onto my husband’s lap.

We walked outside and the bright cheer of sky was too much. So were the happy people sitting at a cafe next to the vet’s office. Being home without Walter was inconceivable yet it was a reality we would I presume come to accept. I tossed arugula into a wood salad bowl for dinner — a task that felt absurd but it was no less of a reminder of life and the way its current keeps pushing our open hearts along.

On stories, Intsagram and prayer hands

I am scrolling Instagram. The images move on my screen like numbers spinning around a slot machine. I stop and like a few pictures. I comment on one of my friend’s photos. “Love!” I write and search for the emoji with the two hearts as eyes. I see my friends’ children at the park, in their backyard, in the kitchen; inspirational quotes; yoga teachers on retreat, at an altar, sitting before a packed class of students in savasana; shots of frothy beer mugs aside a delicious looking salad; dogs, cats; more yoga poses, a video of man doing a press up handstand, a sunset, an afternoon jog, a hyacinth. I take a screen shot of a quote and save it in my library so I have content should I need it. Why and when I made this a habit is something I am still wondering about. But I have come to accept it and even make friends with technology and heed the advice of those whose feeds look like art projects, to treat this time as if it were art.

A few days ago I posted a photo of myself from my wedding. I am looking away from the camera, smiling. I write that I am 37 and pregnant with my third child and situated in my life. Certain. Comfortable. Madly in love. I never know why some posts get more attention than others. This one had an unusual amount of engagement — more comments, likes, emojis. Lots of triple pink hearts and prayer hands.

The picture was taken eight years ago. A #TBT. It was taken at a time I might refer to as my past life. Certainly, it was a life before Instagram. It was before my third child was born. It was before a lot of shit hit the fan in my work, my family, my finances, my community. I am sitting on a wood bench with the floral wreath in my hair about to marry the man of my dreams. I write in the comments that I want to tell that girl to “brace herself for the education she is about to receive.”

I can’t stop thinking about the book I just finished reading. A beautiful memoir about time and marriage written in a mosaic style. Sound-bytes are framed in delicate passages and it is a book whose words have stayed with me long after I finished it. It’s one of those books where you read a line, nod and think, yes, I get it, I think that too, I have been there. The truth is always recognizable.

I heard this same author once say that when you read good writing, you forget that you are even reading. You are transported. You are sharing a consciousness. This is insight I try to parlay into my yoga classes. When the teaching is good, you don’t even remember that you are doing yoga poses — something bigger is at play. I have repeated this line to teachers in training.

Early in the book, the author lists what doesn’t go on Instagram: “Our bank statements; past due notices; quick glances exchanged when our son isn’t looking. Hangovers; sleepless nights; tuition bills. Emails bearing disappointing news… “ and so on.

I was teaching in Maine last weekend to a group of local yoga teachers and I said it would be refreshing if we posted pictures of the classes where only one or two students showed up. We all laughed.  I smiled and thought how glad I was to be there when only a few days before I had dreaded the trip.

Nobody will come.
I don’t have enough content to fill a weekend.
I no longer practice yoga poses like I used to.
What I know is not enough.

My inner critic was relentless.

Before I left for the weekend, I had dinner with a friend and I lamented that I had no idea what I was going to teach. “All I can do is be transparent,” I told her. Something I say a lot to myself.

There is a story I refer to often enough when I am teaching. It is about a writing class where the teacher told the students they had five minutes to write down the most embarrassing moment of their lives. Something they keep hidden. When the timer went off, I was told, every writer in that room of well over fifty started scribbling away. “Somewhere in there,” the teacher said after the timer went off, “is your next big story.”

When I sit to write I don’t often know what will announce itself. Lately, I have been thinking about the role of shame in my life. A random Instagram quote I posted months ago:  “Thou shall not judge because thou hath fucked up too.” Comments were, hahaha! Awesome. and And how.

Hidden but not gone swirl memories inside my body that have taught me the most about humility and forgiveness.  I know that only now. When I teach or write or meditate I hope to live inside these moments.  Moments where I get to pause now (when I should have paused then) and pull out from under deep folds within myself a time that still lives and breathes. Silently, these memories have matured me and have introduced me to my softest me.

Brace yourself.

This past year I taught a three-hour workshop in New Orleans for three people. I posted on Instagram, “Heading to NOLA to be with my favorite community!”  My stack of books and notes of preparation took up most of my suitcase. When I showed up at the space I looked around as if invisible students might suddenly appear. “It’s just us,” I say almost apologizing to the three women who staggered in.

Months before that I forced myself on a  group job interview for a famous yoga lifestyle brand where “I was a shoe-in” to get the job a yogi friend told me about. I sat around a picnic table drinking iced tea being asked to share a fun fact about my life to a group of peppy twenty-somethings. “What is your rose and what is your thorn,” the twenty-something manager asked me grinning. I pretended I was a journalist doing research and not actually applying for a per-diem job at a retail store at this point in my 46-year-old life.  I wished I could tell you I was able to decline the job offer but I never got offered the job. Instead, I received a form letter that they went with somebody else.

The cat hair is everywhere. The pilly fabric on the sofa. The ignored responses to the queries I have sent out on behalf of my new manuscript. The polite “thanks, but it’s not for us.”

I am thinking of a poem I share in my classes.  What if all the people who could not sleep/at two or three or four in the morning/left their houses and went to the parks/What if hundreds, thousands, millions/went in solitude/like a stream/and each told their story/woman fearful if they slept they would die/and young woman unable to conceive/and husbands, wives having affairs and children fearful of falling/ and fathers, mothers worried about paying bills/and men, women having business troubles/and both unlucky in love/those in physical pain/ those who were guilty/ what if they all left their homes together? … Would they be the more radiant ones?

If this poem were captured as an image on Instagram, people everywhere holding each other’s hands and walking in the moonlight, exposed, safe, lit up–  I imagine many likes and emojis with hands clapping and thumbs up and smiles and hearts and winks and prayer hands.

Quality not quantity.

My son is here. Here is the two bedroom apartment in Chicago where I moved over a year ago with my husband, my eight-year-old son, the two dogs and the cat. Here is not where my middle son lives but here is where he visits on school vacations, and a few long scattered weekends throughout the year. Before he arrives I make sure he has his own toothbrush in his bathroom, I buy him shaving cream and a razor and the 2-1 shampoo he likes. I buy his favorite cereal.

Last spring, he had his junior prom and I was not there to take photos with the other moms. His dad sent me the photos via text. Look at our boy! He texted. And there he was in a tuxedo with a red vest handing a rose corsage to his prom date— a girl I didn’t recognize. When I received this text I was at a friend’s house for dinner and I showed the picture to my husband. “Look!” I said. “Look at him,” and he did and smiled and went back to his conversation but for me, the ache of not being there for this lasted well into the next week.

Every day I have to get used to not having my son live with me full time. Some days it feels okay enough. I justify me being here and him being there by telling myself it is good for him to live with his dad, to live in one place for his last two years of high school. He spent most of his entire life living in two homes. His dad and I divorced when he was barely three and while he and his older brother were shuttled back and forth, I practiced adapting to time away from them. After dropping them off at their dad’s, I would eventually appreciate returning to a much quieter house for a few days. By Sunday afternoon, I would be ready for them to come barreling into the house with all their noise and sports equipment and backpacks and boy smell.

There are days where the weight of not living with my boys hits me hard. When I fill out certain documents or school forms I hesitate to write that my son’s’ primary address is not my own. A low point: I once lied and refused not to write my own address on the line that asked for “address of primary caregiver” or “permanent residence of child.”

When a student or new friend asks me about my other sons’ whereabouts, I say they are in college which is only half true. It feels more reasonable to admit out loud that I moved to a different state at the same time that both of my boys went off to school. It feels less complicated than having to explain that one still lives back east with his dad.

When I speak with my friends and their young children whine for them to get off the phone and pay attention to them, I hear my friends’ frustration for having to get off prematurely, but they do not hear my slight envy. It’s the middle of the day and my apartment is as quiet as an ashram.

When my son was little I did all the mom things. I sat with my mom friends in big backyards while our children played on jungle gyms and swing sets and I huddled over my son while I cut up his hot dog and squeezed the ketchup onto his plate and wiped his hands and face and deposited him into the bath with his bath toys and soapy water and read him Caps For Sale and kissed him goodnight. If you would have told me that this mother would be the same mother who 13 years later chose to pack up her home and live away from her children I would have said, not in a million years. When people ask why I moved, I look off into the distance and wistfully repeat, “It was just time.” The past few years of heartache and money issues and poor choices come flooding into the air. Perhaps my boys who watched me struggle more than thriving, perhaps they understood in their own way that it was time for me to make a change before it was time for them.

The weeks leading up to my move my son would come into my room and sit on my bed. “This is really happening?” He would say not sounding upset, just in mild disbelief. I stopped with the bubble wrap and tape and looked at him. “Mom,” he said over and over again those weeks, “I will be fine! It’s you who I am worried about!”

The day of the move I met both my boys for breakfast. We went to the same local diner where I used to carry a portable high chair in my arms and attach it to the table where my son’s legs would dangle from the leg holes and we would play tic tac toe on the paper placemats until his pancakes arrived where I would stuff huge forkfuls into his mouth and hand him his sippy cup from my bag.They were planning their day — Going off to the gym later that afternoon. I was relieved that the magnitude of me leaving did not hit them hard enough to distract them from their basketball game. That at the time they laced up their sneakers I would be crossing state lines, following my husband who drove the Uhaul which housed the entire contents of our life now. At this breakfast I handed the boys some of their winter coats and sweatshirts that had been hanging in my front closet; and despite trying to convince my husband we should have some of their stuff at our apartment in Chicago, he looked at me sympathetically and explained that the boys actually might need and want these things at their dad’s for the coming season.

I hugged my boys goodbye in the parking lot and held them longer and tighter than I usually do. They were smiling and shuffling me off like two normal teenagers who needed space from their mother’s coddling. “We’re fine mom!” And it seemed that they were as they walked together to their car already onto their future day.

It’s been almost two years since the move. I FaceTime weekly with the boys. I sit in my living room and watch their faces pop on the screen. I see the posters in their room hanging above their head. Often they are multi-tasking while we talk — but I don’t mind. For me, it’s less about the content and more about just being there with them while they are living their lives. They have both shared on occasion that they miss being able to just come to my house. “Why are you a plane ride away now?” My son asks almost hypothetically. We are still getting used to the way our family feels. I have to ward off the expectations I used to have about what now defines me as a good mother — a definition that certainly did not involve leaving. I have to stop comparing myself to other moms. I I put my hand on my heart most days to offer myself a little compassion.

The days leading up to their arrival my mood elevates exponentially.  My oldest couldn’t come this time but my middle arrived on Passover. It’s his third day here on a seven-day visit. We sit on the couch most of our first day together watching stand-up comedy, something that has become a kind of ritual for us. Inside my mind I hear my mother’s refrain, it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters. She worked full time when I was growing up and when I would lament to her about not being there when I got home from school she would offer me that line with a hug. Now, it is one of my mantras.

I absorb my son’s visit into my bones. The weight of his legs resting on my lap. He is now the entire length of my sofa. The sound of his phone chats drifting into the living room. His size 12 high tops by the door and the extra plates in the sink to be cleaned. My mothering — distilled down to the absolute essence, redefined, transplanted but no less of a calling.

I am no longer breathy or belabored by the physical presence of young children but now find solace and beauty in remembering even a sliver of what that life used to be.

Feedback

When I first moved to Chicago a friend asked me to give him feedback on his yoga class. I considered him asking a compliment. I was new to the community and was still realizing that runners stretch in Connecticut was a low lunge in Chicago. I took my friend’s class and was happy to oblige his request. Though, from the get go I realized his teaching was different from anything I had practiced before. In fact, that was true of many of the classes I sampled when I moved here. I was learning a new dialect.

For years I was schooled in a particular way of doing yoga. I was convinced that my practice was the only way, the best way, the absolute holy grail. Had my friend asked me a few years ago to give him feedback on his class I might have leaned his approach up against my model to point out ways it was not measuring up to what I believed was the best technique for teaching the best yoga class.

As I am writing this I am squirming. I was passionate and confident about my content and that was all true for me at that time. It is only in these past years where I find have no idea or strong opinion about what makes a great yoga class truly great other than the willingness a teacher has to know herself and stand in that to the utmost. Something that must steer clear of public opinion.

I took my friend out for coffee. He looked at me for guidance and I thought about his class. He wanted me to tell him something concrete about his instructions or his sequence or what he could possibly do better. But I couldn’t. I no longer considered myself an authority. I kept saying the same thing. “Are you teaching what lights you up? Are you able to share that from that place?”

I thought about how much my opinions had changed over the years. I thought about the recent workshops I taught. How vulnerable I felt showing up with my stack of poetry books leading a whole weekend without having the security to rely on any system. “We just want you!” they said and how much I questioned if that would be enough. My experience now has taught me that teaching has nothing to do with making students invest in what I think but more to do with finding the language and holding the space for students to invest more in what they think.
How hard it was for me to deem that worthy enough for a weekend workshop but then again. . .

A week ago I received feedback from students who were subscribers to a certain new phenomenon called ClassPass. Despite the perfunctory advice to take the feedback “with a grain of salt,” something no human can ever really do, I took a breath and read the twenty public opinions about my class. (I will preempt this to say that many were lovely but of course my fixation rest solely on the few reviews that stung).
Tracy overcomplicates things. Fair, enough.
Teacher talks through the entire class, I mean the ENTIRE class. This one had a sad face next to it. One star.

By the time I finished reading the reviews I worked out some ego stuff, and picked myself up by the collar. Sharon Salzburg has famously said. “We are not meditating to become better meditators. We are meditating to become better people.” Parker Palmer reminds me that what we teach is not as important as who we are when we teach. Presently, as I drift further away from any brand or prescribed system of yoga or movement preference I am left to do what perhaps any practice has intended all this time – to trust myself more than anything else and go with that.