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 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.

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.