mothers pray

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

Please, let things work out.

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

Please, let things be ok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Dream of being invisible

     I am writing this from a cafe where I have spent the last few days working on an overview for a book I just wrote. Every time I hear myself say that I wrote a book, I feel like someone is going to come out from behind a dark corner and call me out. I think who the hell possessed my body for the past four years and willed me to sit down and complete something I never imagined I would do. Forget about what was even going on around me at the time. “The book wrote itself”  is what I have heard authors say about how some of their most personal projects got written. I totally get what that means now. 

     I wonder now how many of us are sitting down in coffee shops trying to squeeze their life work into a one-page overview making sure it includes the perfect “hook.” The overview is for a proposal they tell me I need to do if I want my book to be seen by anybody outside of my circle of friends and family. I thought I could avoid it. Or that somehow I would be immune which is probably a naivete still left over from a life credo I used to carry with me where I fully believed in my bones, “everything will work out” no matter how much shit was hitting the fan. It was a mindset I inherited from my mother and my grandmother who for them, optimism was an orthopraxy. Or maybe it was just a way of disguising rampant denial.

     The day I knew I finished the book which I imagine is not unlike what a jockey must feel like as he gallops across the finish line, there was a part of me that thought that the book would find itself magically lifted from the confines of my Macbook Air and sent through the ethers to the powers that be who would ring my doorbell and grant me access to the world of professional writers where I would be carried away from my current career (something for a period of time I might have even referred to as being saved) and dropped into my new identity with artists whom I idolize from afar.

     Of course, no such thing has happened yet. Even though I waited like a child waiting for the tooth fairy to appear.

    Not that I am calling myself a writer. I have been told by professional writers whom I adore that it is important to “give yourself permission” to say you are a writer. Life coaches speak to this kind of thing too. They call it manifesting. The first or even second time I decided to do this I was sitting next to someone on the plane and when we struck up conversation and she asked me what I did, I hesitated enough with my response to having definitely left her skeptical – I swallowed back “yoga teacher” and said with a directness that surprised me, “I am a writer.” Inside parts of me perked up and shouted from somewhere north of my gut, who said that? Aside from it feeling like I was undercover and at any moment I would be caught with a microphone taped in my bra, I was embarrassingly unprepared for her to follow up question. “What do you write? Anything I would have heard of?” By the time I got through explaining how I spent the past years writing a memoir that hasn’t been published, nor have I written anything that I ever got paid for, I decided that I would have to use that line sparingly.

     The fact is that writing a book was unexpected. I never set out to pursue writing as a vocation just like I never set out overtly to arrive at teaching yoga. The yoga pulled me along like a rip tide and carried me into an identity I loved. It brought me to places and community and conversation and I was happy to turn into an actual job. It was part luck. Part timing. And part not thinking about it all too much. At the time I arrived at saying I was a yoga teacher, there was no Instagram or platforms or strategic ways of branding my body, my viewpoints, my systems of choice. It was just me teaching and happy when students selected to come to hear what I had to say and they made me better at thinking more critically about what that responsibility is.

     Lately, amidst what I can only describe as a long-term transition, a softer way of saying I might be enduring a midlife crisis or that I am right now relating more closely than I want to be to that feeling Jack Nickelson’s character had in the therapist’s office when he looked around at the other people in the waiting room and quipped, “Maybe this Is this as good as it gets?”

     For me to ward off that momentary sigh, I recall a recent teaching. The teacher explained during a meditation that this journey involved three stages. In “this journey” she was referring to yoga, which I have come to see as just another way of saying this life, or this life where your eyes are finally opened. She told us the first stage was to listen to your heart. “Be unwavering,” she said. I was happy I was at a place where I no longer rolled my eyes at that bit of wisdom. Now when I hear the instruction “listen to my heart” I picture diving down within myself, shutting out the noise of the world, and cuddling up with my heart itself – which is there to hold me and tell me what it has been waiting patiently to say.

     “The second stage is to follow your heart no matter what the outcome.” My eyes were still closed but his one made me lift my head and look up at my heart with mild panic. No matter the outcome? Ya mean, I listen to you and I might not get what I want, but do it anyway? Reflexively, that made me want to cling onto my heart and squeeze out a better, safer more comfortable option. The option that said I will listen if my heart promises me I will get a book deal with a big publishing house.

     “The third,” the teacher said with her hands in prayer. “Make it all an offering.”

     Follow your heart. Regardless of the outcome. Make it all an offering. Carolyn Myss once advised, “Don’t dream of being famous,” she said, “Dream of being invisible.” Make it all an offering.

     “It” I have come to learn is the quieter invisible work. The work that incrementally brings me closer to why I am here. This has nothing to do with likes and comments on Facebook or numbers in a yoga room or book hooks or publishing deals. This work gets done in the quiet corners of cafes or yoga rooms or classrooms or playgrounds or in kitchens and living rooms churches, temples, woodsheds. The book that writes itself. The hat that gets knit. The class that gets taught. The invisible work is not caught on film nor does it go viral. This is the trembling, often barely audible work that lives within – it’s a more secret life that is burgeoning, and finding its moment of revelation – it’s the one that lights the way for me to write anything at all.

Money, yoga and hair color.

        Another lifetime ago, I used to get my hair colored and cut at a coveted salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The place itself was on the top floor of a trendy boutique department store which meant that getting my hair done also coincided with me doing some emotionally necessary shopping.

         My stylist looked like a cuter version of Alec Baldwin and was gay which did not stop me from having a massive crush on him. “It’s never going to happen,” my best friend told me once when I squealed and told her I was meeting him at the Four Seasons lobby for a drink. We were past the client/stylist relationship. We were family friends. My parents went out with him socially. I think they met for dinner when they were all in Miami one winter.

        I sat in his chair which might as well have been a therapist’s couch and we bared our souls over our respective relationships, pet care, our favorite art films, and shopping. That chair, similarly to my yoga mat, had seen me through the best of times and the absolute worst. My stylist knew every squeamish detail of my suburban life and he primped and balayage and we stared at each other in the mirror and sighed. He was a recovering alcoholic and referenced his meetings often. When he did he put his hand on his heart and said, “Honey, we could all use a little meeting in our lives.” I alternated between looking at him and my own reflection. Then he said something which I never forgot. I can’t remember what phase of my life I was in at that point. I was getting my hair done so it must have been a time when I was still in denial about money and matching my lifestyle to affordability. I would guess I was halfway out of my first marriage and living out some post-adolescent splurge which involved other men and lots of yoga. Or it might have been when I was already out of my first marriage and well into owning my own business, (which I would leave behind years later) owning my own home (which I would short sale years later) and having a lot of fun teaching and practicing intricate yoga poses which was still happening to the point of obsession.

        “The last relationship in recovery that you reconcile,” he told me as he brushed the cold purplish goop on my head, “is your relationship with money.”

        I myself was not in recovery but I had this sense when he said that at some point this reconciliation he spoke about would have to happen for me. That at some point money would want me to get to know it’s not so fun side. It wasn’t then. I was still too comfortable to make massive change. I was still justifying ripping tags off purchases and hiding them in my closet. I was ok with letting other people take care of the numbers.

        It’s only today as I sit midday in my apartment in a city that I still consider unnervingly new that I understand the weight of what he meant. If I had spent less time in my stylist chair and more time taking care of my life in other ways, then I would not be sitting here thinking about how I allowed myself to squander what I had earned. I was born with a famous knack for choosing partners and husbands and parents who took great care of me and I spent a lot of time not involving myself in the fiscal realm of my life. I was not the girl you handed the check to figure out the tax. I was not the one who kept receipts. I was not the one who could tell you what the milk costs or what the price of gas was in my town. I was the creative. Whimsical. Good at other things. For a girl who prided herself most of her adult life on waking up and paying attention I am facing what I think is probably my darkest hour. Not dark bad, but dark as in never having had to shine light in that direction until now with no seat of the teacher to hide behind and no rich husband to pay the credit card bills. I have to look at what I stuffed deep into the corners of my life,  unattending, and at least start to do some folding.  I had opportunities. Lord, knows I have. But, the light was always so much nicer over there.

     I hear you life coaches: Money is energy. Purpose and Paycheck. Know your Worth. Know your Why (and by the way, thank you for calling me gorgeous). Turning over the proverbial new leaf involved my most recent decision (and one that I am still convincing myself was a good idea) -signing on to become an affiliate marketer for a company I respect in the hopes that this would be my chance to turn this ship around and start keeping track and building networks and writing lists and doing what business minded people do in their sleep. This for me feels like I am wearing someone else’s outfit that I would never wear. (My mom is my biggest fan though she still isn’t a customer). It’s like mindset deadlifting. My mental muscles don’t seem to want to move this way. I listen to power points and motivational speak from women in red blouses who tell me in a few months they are financially free and the boss of their own lives. I feel like I am looking into a storefront window but I cannot figure out how I am supposed to get in. I also think that I have no idea how to make a power point presentation.

     I have adopted a new mantra “I will figure it out.” Which when I do, when I manage to sit there and not ask my husband to help and refrain from calling my old graphic designer who just had a baby who was the queen of figuring shit out (and is quietly my hero right now); and I finagle around with my own files and avoid shoe shopping and start planning over dreaming, I have a mini celebration. Yay, me. The coaches online tell me I only have to believe.

     I have recently succumbed to box coloring my hair which I see as both a contribution to my family’s lifetsyle budget and as a weird kind of DIY project. (I can tell you the “cherry pie” red is not going to happen if you are dark brunette.) I have accepted a part time managerial job at a yoga studio. (Past students, you can close your mouths now). “Don’t you think it’s ironic?” My husband asked when I told him about my job responsibilities, “that you never learned to take care of your own businesses but now you will with someone else’s?”

    Call it karma. Call it irony. I just see it as it being about time.

Just don’t kill us

     I am writing this from my bedroom in Chicago. It’s a little after ten in the morning and there is nobody home other than the two dogs and the cat curled up inches from where I am sitting. The laundry is folded. The dishes are put away. The kids are out of the house. The only sounds are the cars rushing by outside my window. I hesitate to admit that I have yet to get dressed. For the first time in forever, I have time to slow down. You would think this would be a welcome indulgence.

     I spent years never having enough time. I raced from my kids to my work to my mat to my home without giving much thought about slowing down. I talked about it a lot. My practice certainly gave me a small taste of stretching time long enough to feel my feet on the ground, only to offer a quick namaste and off to the races again. I know I am not alone. Recently, a friend after he was told to take it easy because of an injury he sustained responded with, “I am not good at resting.” Once I was teaching a class and after asking for any requests a student piped in, “Just don’t kill us.”

     Sigh. When did our practices become another part of our day where we beat ourselves up for not working harder? Doing more? Why do we expect that to produce the greater result?

     Not too long ago I would have killed for time off like I have now. It took a while for my nerves to stop twitching and cowering from the glare of doing nothing. I remember my first silent meditation retreat. I spent the first three days obsessively checking the message board at the front entrance of the retreat center. It made me feel like I was doing something even when my only job was to do nothing, to go nowhere.

     I am no stranger to pushing through pain or discomfort. I question, have I spent all these years using my practice as crisis management? A place to replicate “getting through the tough stuff?” Admittedly this worked for a while. I was good at crisis. I was good at seeing how our struggle is our opportunity.

     But what of being soft? Of lowering the pressure gauge? When did it get more uncomfortable for us not to do so much? How is that we put our hands in front of our hearts and wish for space only to treat our practices like another task to check off of our to-do list? What is all this busy-ness we call living?

     I get up and walk into the silence of my kitchen. The sun changed position in the sky and its rays stream through the window onto the floor. The dogs are smart and impressively fold their bodies in a perfect coil and lay down in what is now the warmest spot in the house. There are less cars passing by and as I stand there feeling strangely out of synch with the world racing around me, it does not go unnoticed that this stillness, this aloneness is probably the most nourishing time of my life.