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.

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.


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.

Wait until the boys are here

       Yesterday I dropped my nineteen year old son off at the airport, wrapped my arms around his no-longer-a-boy- body and said goodbye. Tonight I will do the same with my nearly seventeen year old. He will have his head phones on and his back pack on one shoulder and he will be fine. I never thought I would pine for the days when he used to make of himself a human anvil and attach himself to my lower leg and keep me from dropping him off at Temple pre-school.

       Sixteen years later, my son who stands several inches over me with a cute five-o’clock shadow and broad shoulders and feet that look like they belong to a giant, is now perfectly content to give me a gracious hug and a thank you for a great week and make his way toward the plane that will carry him miles away. Now, I am the one who wants to wrap myself around his leg and wail at the top of my lungs “Don’t leave me!”

       Of course, I won’t do that.

       Instead I will stand there and watch him until I can no longer see him and will try and brace myself for that undeniable pang that rises up within me every time I have to say goodbye to my children now. Somehow the pang reads more significant than ever. I find myself more nostalgic when I watch parents stroll their toddlers around the city or wipe their faces during meals when I seem to have more idle time than I may have ever had in my life.

       A week before they arrived here I must have said a hundred times, “Wait until the boys are here! They will love this!” I said that about the days I spent on the lake, or walking downtown in this new city, or eating the best taco of my life. “Wait until the boys are here!” I would say to my husband and my friends and their younger brother who waited eagerly for them to barrel into the house the way they do. I couldn’t wait to share my days with them.

       And when they arrived their man/boy energy filled our home with a largeness that had less to do with their size and more to do with their charisma and place in their lives. They were funny and animated and were the best company even when I still had to remind them to flush the toilet or pick up their wet towels. My house had that boy-smell and there was never enough food and they slept past eleven and they left their dirty socks everywhere and I was giddy and more alive than I had been at the chance to be their every day mom again. Saying goodbye to them now hurts more because I am also saying goodbye to this role more and more in their lives. I think about my own mom, who is turning 75 and in the twenty plus years she has lived without all of her children under her roof, I wonder if she still gets those same pangs when my brothers and I put on our shoes and pick up our things and walk to her front door. Does it still ache when we hug goodbye and get on with our respective lives, no longer living with parents nor needing them in the ways we used to?

       My sons’ step-mom said something to me years ago. She said, “We raise our children to leave us.” At the time, my children were still young and demanding in the ways young children can be and I remember smiling and saying, “I can’t wait!”  While I am writing this, my son is in his room on the phone. I can hear his deep voice from where I sit. I look at the clock. In two hours I will be dropping him off and saying the goodbye I have been dreading for days. I can already feel the pang. I try to grab onto the feeling of him being in the next room and ward off the sinking feeling I know will possess me when I return home to a much quieter (albeit cleaner) house later tonight. Perhaps to ease this ache which seems to announce itself every time my boys walk in and out of my daily life, I can say with a kind of disbelief, I did that. I played a big part in making it possible for my son to turn around and with an easy going smile on his face say, “See you soon, mom. I love you.”

With a little help from a friend

An angel told me on Saturday I was controlling. That I had trouble letting go.When an angel tells you these things you do not get defensive. You pause, the way I did.

“I am?” I asked. It was hard to hear the truth even from the mouth of an angel.
“Passively controlling,” he specified.

I smiled and nodded because that was even more true. I thought about the continuous ways I may have held others back by being too quiet, too non verbally indignant. I thought of the quiet huffs or stamping foot I gave to my husband over the years when he told me he had to go out of town again. I was sorry that I ever sent my husband out of town carrying more baggage than he ever needed to.

Why was it so hard for me to be alone?

“It’s your subconscous,” the angel said. And he moved his hands around as if he were clearing away dust from a windowsill. “You will feel a lot better,” the angel told me. You will perecive things a lot differently.”

Even if I tried to be skepical I couldn’t. I felt more receptive, more open to what I could not understand more than at anytime in my life.  My body knew the way an animal knows that this is where it is safe to sleep. I awkwardly closed and then opened my eyes. I wanted to witness what he was doing but my conditioning told me to close them out of reverence rather than observe the way he went about conversing with the universe who was giving him information about things within myself I had yet to see.

I won’t bother to go into it (the healing) because I am still figuring it out. I am still basking in the blessing of the whole thing and how I ended up sitting with a celestial being at a Hilton in Evanston on Saturday. A Hilton, I know. Not the venue one might expect to sit down with an angel. But then again, why not a Hilton?

I woke up the next day exceedingly lighter. It was that fast. That obvious, at least for me. I felt compelled to savor the blessing. To change my routine. To test out what this week would be like if I chose rest over activity, silence over conversation. If I played Mozart while makiing breakfast. If I let beauty in everywhere.

What wasn’t new was knowing that it is hard to hear the truth about things. Except when you realize the truth is where all the beauty of nature lies you feel more compelled to want to live by it —  That the weight of our lives is not meant to doom us, nor is it consciosuly our fault if we chose to carry our life around with us like it owes us more than it has offered. There are tools to help us lift ourselves out from under what we cannot control. There are guides that teach us to surrender. There are blessings everywhere.  There are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Reflection: The extraordinary thing that the natural world teaches us is that it is never reluctant to be itself yet isn’t it astonishing that as humans can spend so much of our time relucatant to be who we are?   I believe  we walk around this Earth having some kind of purpoose that is hidden like a secret deep within the sedimentary layers of our subconsious. If we are lucky enough in this lifetime that secret gets dislodged, it gets loosened from the dense ground from which it lay hidden and we get to pluck it from it’s ground and grow it and create it and thrive radiantly because of it. Our own nature, revealed.

I also believe that on the way to growing our life in ways we deserve, we may need help from angels.

On Beginning Again

Last week I found myself in an entirely different kind of yoga class. Which was not so unusual given the fact that in the last few months I have found myself in an entirely new part of the country. A new neighborhood. A new schoolyard. A new grocery store. A new home. A new life. The class involved intense heat, hand weights and Justin Timberlake music. It demanded stamina. It demanded that my eyes stay wide open and my body stay in constant motion even if I didn’t always feel like it. I remarked that like everything else, I never would have been in this new experience had I not opened myself to it. At the final transition of the class the teacher encouraged us to take pause and to think about how that moment could be a chance to begin again.

To begin again? [Read more…]