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.

Make yourself deserve more

            My youngest son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome last year. (Nowadays they call it Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder). Either way, for the past year my husband and I have taken to the books, the internet, doctors, healers, and angels to find the best course of treatment that would serve our son and help him thrive in every possible way. Talk about our children being the gurus.

             I have always been good at trying to find the lessons in my life. From the muckiest muck, I found a way to clear the smudge from my eyes and see that there was something bigger I was being pointed toward within myself. I worked hard at that, not realizing that effort alone had it’s own cost on my system, and in a strange way a kind of delusion that I was in control. With regard to my son, as our children often encourage, it was time for me to learn new ways of communicating, and different ways of spending my time.

             I often look at my move to Chicago as something which held more significance than leaving an old life behind. I got here and had time to look at what in my life needed the most tending. I had the space to contemplate how I can be better with my family, my finances, my time, my health. I had space to listen to where my interests were being pulled. I had time to live the patience I often spoke about.

            This year I have learned more resolve than I ever thought was possible. I could feel that was happening evidenced mostly by how much softer I was responding to certain truths of my life.  A few months ago, I wouldn’t have necesarily admitted that. I was staunch on protecting the power of my victimhood. There was a certain satisfaction in being angry at my life, my husband, the world for me not being where I thought I should be in life. But like all things, that truth shifted for me and I stopped. I was tired of that stance. I was tired of rolling my eyes at every motivational coach speak about what it was like to “not live in your true purpose!”
I was also just tired.

          Meantime, there was my husband on the other side of the kitchen table taking these things from glass bottles. Minerals. Supplements. Super powerful foods. I watched him from my seat at breakfast. He seemed exuberant and lively and sometimes I wanted to strangle him (in a loving way). “Supplements are vital to strengthening your spiritual body,” I have heard him say, and watched him chug ounces of silicia and ocean minerals and nitro oxide and deep purple liquid from clear pouches. I had to admit, he did seem great. Softer. Clear eyed. Loving. Patient. Energized. Happy. “It just helps your healing when you are feeding your body these things it longs for.” 

                He started giving our son these supplements under the guidance of a very special healer. I watched from the side lines and saw that in a weeks time there were behaviors my son demonstrated that had been a struggle his whole life -more eye contact, more social curioisty, more go with the flow. This was enough to make me stop and wonder about my own spiritual body and the layers of connections that were possibly short circuiting due to a lack of replenishment. I thought I replenished. But my fatigue and low level anxiety said otherwise.

               I was never a supplement girl. If I tried in the past, it lasted a week at most. I had yoga and tried to drink more water and eat less sugar. In the wake of my son’s newfound aliveness, and my husband’s undeniable vitality, I have come to make them part of my daily ritual. In fact I have come to love this period in the morning. My coffee sits to the side and I swallow this life food and feel like without any effort at all I am doing the best thing for myself I have done in a long time. And it is so much easier and gentler than some of the yoga classes I sometimes force upon myself.

             With self-care being such a current topic in the field at which I have been a part of for most of my life,  I ask myself how is it that I am applying that level of care? Is it possible that I always thought it couldn’t be that easy? Is it possible I never thought that I could boost the potentcy of what  practices intend to do  simply by strengthening my wiring witin? Could it be that I just needed the right supplementation?

          I have approached some close friends and family about my newfound love of these products which I believe at the heart are pure goodness. Yesterday I received some messages like, “I am so happy for you, but this isn’t for me.”
I got it. I never thought I would be that girl who walked around talking about how a food or a drink changed her life. (I may have talked about how tee shirts could, or poetry). My own skeptism was quickly overided by my body’s messaging.
I slept better. I thought better. I choose better. I am so much better. (Not to mention that I looked better).

        I winced at the my friend’s resistance, a doubting that I recognized. It didn’t matter how much I wanted her to have what I was having. It mattered more that I could hear her as I could hear myself.  I  realize that on this path of healing ourselves, we hear and see and feel what we need to at the exact time we are ready.

 Make it easier on yourself.  It should be. 

 

when the yoga teacher grows up.. and other wonderings.

My mother, in her retirement, has recently graduated Clown College and when she isn’t playing Bridge or researching new clubs to join in her over fifties lifestyle community, she and her clown friends are volunteering at the local assisted living facility and entertaining the elderly.

My mother, who has never in her life not parlayed a passion of hers into some kind of opportunity to market her way to a career, has found her recent love of clowning awakening other possiblities for her. She has always loved to help people – whether that was doling out some trusty relationship advice or mentoring young women in how to write a business plan. It wouldn’t be my mother if I did not spend more than a few phone calls listening to her brainstorm ways her clowning could be a national brand. I try to temper her inner enterpeneur by saying, “Mom, some things we love to do are simply for the joy of it.” She can’t help it. Marketing anything is implicit in her personality.

Career wanderlust runs in my bloodline. Reinvention has always been my mother’s thing. She has gone from travel agent, to marketing executive, to salsa dance studio owner, to self publishing author, to a clown named Rosie. She seemed to me through all this risk taking and shape shifting to always be unafraid, unapologetic and inexhaustiable. (I won’t even mention the time she flirted with living on a farm and breeding Saint Bernards).

Up until recently, I have never questioned my work in the world. I have for the better part of almost twenty years been doing what I love and making a modest but sustainable living from it. I have always been way more focussed on the work I love, more than the stream of income I was producing because of it. It wasn’t a job I was showing up for and leaving at the end of the day. My work was synonymous with my whole life. I lived and breathed (literally) the work I offered and I could not imagine spending more than fifty percent of my days not doing what made me feel that alive.

This is the first time in over a decade I have not owned a yoga studio. It feels both freeing and awkward. I have for the majority of my working years not only known that but been strongly identified as doing that. It was what shaped my routine, the things I choose to study and read, my lifestyle, my entire community with which I surrounded myself in.
With this no longer being the central place from which I conduct my life from I find myself in Chicago asking more and more — so, Tracy what’s next? I know I will always stay close to my teaching roots, as I reailze what I loved most about having a yoga studio is what happened on the yoga mat with my students. I am not surprised that one week into living here I found a place to teach.

Yet, lately, feeling on the precipice of all this change in my personal and professional life, I think of my mother’s path and cannot help but reflect on my own. Not the dog breeding part, but the what do I want to be when I grow up part?

Perhaps there has been a side of me that has never really asked myself this question. My passions have moved me along like a steady current and landed me smack in the middle of opportunity. Getting here did not require brute effort it required a trusting your gut approach. It has not been an easy path, but it had been fulfilling for awhile.
But like everything, that is changing.

With more time on my hands than I have had in years, and being older and slightly more weathered from my own life experiences, I sit here and wonder where I will continue to point this interest arrow of mine.

Next to my bed sits a stack of memoirs from writers whom I love. Joan Didion. Dani Shapiro. Anne Lamott. And another book with the unabashedly embrassing title, You are a Badass (how to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life). The title was compelling enough for me to click purchase on Amazon and be grateful I was not putting that one on the counter for the cashier to eye and judge me for a book called You Are A Badass. While it isn’t my style to open myself to self-help type genres, I did buy the thing and I find myself flipping through the pages.
I appreciate the inventory it asks me to take.
I am not afraid to admit I may be a little stalled in my life for some of the subconscious reasons she so cheerily identifies.
I am happy teaching but I can’t help but feel there’s more of this life, this body I am here to do. That there is some unfinished project that awaits my attention.

For the past two years I have been painstakingly working on a memoir that has nothing to do with yoga.I have found a million reasons to dismiss this as a crazy farfetched idea. It would me more realistic if I chose to breed Saint Bernards.
But like yoga teaching found me, writing this thing has reawakened me.
And like my mother has taught me, I follow my heart no matter how wild and crazy the ride seems to be.
And like teaching has shown me,  we do what we love and that is simply the offering.
The pay check for that?
I can always keep working on that too.

The successful one

     I was once given this sort of advice from someone who I deeply respected in business. He said to me, “Your best revenge, is your success.”
     I knew what he meant. It was a time in my life when my yoga studio which I had co-owned for almost a decade was going through a sad divorce. My partner and I were breaking up. It was brutal. Traumatic. Devastating. On us. On our communities. On our friendships and families. On our business. This advice while well intended seemed to impress upon me that it was only when I surpassed my former partner in business that I will be free of the pain the breakup caused.
     As time passed and transitions have made that point in my life seem more distant and oblique, the regret of how it all went down and choices thereafter still claim its territory within. I have a hard time buying that it has much to do with where I ended up. Letting go I learned is a creative process as much as forgiveness is. It’s two steps forward where I might reach the pinnacle of calm acceptance, and three steps back where I might feel gripped by the burn of having no control over so much.
I repeated my mother’s advice as if it were that easy.  “We cannot look back, we can only move forward and learn from our past.” Of course, the lessons I have learned. Where would I be without them? The lessons I received about my own behaviors, my own shadows, my own weaknesses, they all came rushing forward as if they were begging for my attention. I may not be grateful for everything that happened, but I can be grateful in every moment for these lessons which have shaped me and are defining some of my finest aspirations today. I listen for the ways my present has benefitted from this kind of learning.
It is my body most of all that tells me how over things I really am. I wonder about that on days like today where I feel compelled to write about this or days like yesterday when I was triggered unexpectedly by a conversation I had with a dear loving friend and longtime student. She was filling me in about her life, her yoga practice, and mentioned innocently that my old partner’s classes “are packed.” “It’s so crowded there,” she said. “She is running a good business.”
While I wished to God that my first response was one of beauty, that the accrual of these lessons would have showed up when I told my friend, “Oh, I am happy for her. She deserves that success.” I said the words and wanted to stand by them completely. But, amidst that I could feel in my belly those small tentacles of my own ego catch hold of me and for several breaths in the conversation I felt the uprising of hurt and pain, jealousy and regret. I looked around at where I was in my life and started comparing. I started tragically asking, what if things had gone another way? What if I had done things differently? And the line up of questions that ran completely against the current of reality. Of the present moment. Of accepting what was. Of looking around at my life and embracing exactly where I am. I am starting anew. I am not sure how it will all turn out. I don’t yet know from where my stability will arise. I resisted the self-denigrating side of me that wanted to blurt out, I deserve where I am.  That according to my business advice, I was on the losing side of success.
There is a place within me that is at peace with all the ways my life has been led.  There is also a place within that longs to have a do-over. That wishes I can look back and take with me the centered, older clearer version of myself that sits in my bedroom in Chicago feeling humbled and softer. (Had I known then, what I know now…)  I know I am a better teacher now than I ever was. A better mother. A better friend. Possibly a better business woman. (I would hope).  I wish that my past could somehow know me as I am now becoming.  That I can bump into my old self and carry her along with me rather than chastise her for all the foolish things she did.  She is not a mistake. She is and will be such a huge contribution in me understanding, valuing and creating a life that is successfully lived.

 

What we expected

Two years ago around this time of year, I went on a silent retreat to heal from a broken heart. God, was it just two years ago? Had it already been two years? It’s funny how the passing of time offers such paradox. The reality that our lives are moving forward at lightening speed, and the illusion of how our near past can feel like we lived a different life a million years ago.

A year ago I was somewhere else. Recently, I ran into a student and a year ago she was in a coma. Today she was standing on the street holding a yoga mat. A year ago you weren’t a mother. Today you are nothing but. A year ago he was alive and now he isn’t. Ah, time and the way it presents us our newfound selves the way it surrounds us with nothing but a chance to adapt and look back in awe. [Read more…]