On those moments

I am writing this from my bedroom in Chicago. I am sitting in a leather club chair that now fills the space where a 108 pound Saraswati statue used to sit for the past two years. I kept this statue close by for nearly twenty years. She is now on her way to a new home. I did not have a chance to document the moment my husband hoisted the thing down to his car and drove with her to the post office. I walked into my bedroom and she wasn’t there anymore and I thought I would feel something bigger about that but I didn’t. What came to mind was the time I watched Buddhist monks spend days making an intricate mandala out of colored sand. They knelt beside this enormous installation for hours and blew colored grains into the design. It took hundreds of hours to complete. It took minutes, if not seconds to dissipate into the air.

Last week when my older sons were here I didn’t get one shot of us being together, something I have made a practice of doing (then posting on Instagram with hashtags #mamasofsons). It must be slightly off putting from their perspective to scroll their feeds and see their middle aged mama posting selfies on a regular basis. It’s just weird, my son says.

When I dropped one of my sons at the airport last week he grabbed his bag out of my trunk and I said, “We didn’t get one picture!”

“That’s ok, mom,” he said. “We don’t need it.”

I watched him walk through the glass doors with his headphones on and proceeded to take a photo of the airline departure sign. I will never get used to saying goodbye to my kids, was my caption.

I have made many attempts in the past few weeks to write something, anything. In my last attempt entitled “rambling blog” I wrote about the week of my sons’ visit. “It was family dinners at home and TV watching and dog walks and intermittent arguments about getting off the phone. It was me calibrating to the new feeling that comes with accepting that my older sons are now visiting me and no longer living with me.”

These days, the question how did I get here so fast is often on my mind. The coming and going of moments seem so much faster now. Moments I look forward to become memories in an instant.I think about writing them down. To capture the ways in which I am seeing these moments flash by my eyes. The thought that gets sparked by the certain way I look up at the sky. That feeling when my son is no longer in the passenger seat and I am driving back to what still feels like a new life even though it is nearly two years since I moved.

By the time I sit to write, the words that once danced around in my head are gone. I am empty. But not in the good Buddhist way. In their place resides an onslaught of criticism. Coupled with a lot of frustration. If I were really a writer, I would be writing every day. If I were really a meditation teacher, I would be sitting every day. I look at the stack of books I have yet to finish reading.

Recently, I registered for two online courses. I wanted to be part of something. I wanted another booklist. More content to accumulate. My life has winded down to the quietest place it ever has been. This is a good thing, I think. Two minutes later I feel guilty about all the time I have on my hands. I am antsy and impatient. I am trusting and centered.
I am a changing family.
I am eating differently.
I use oil on my face now when not too long ago I would have balked at the idea of using anything other than astringent.
“The truth is always changing,” my husband has told me before.“It’s dynamic.” I think about the dishes I picked out on my wedding registry over twenty years ago and how today I would not pick those same dishes.

I recognize that old tide of doubt that rises within me when I am about to start something new. It used to stop me in my tracks. Now, I proceed, often with my hand on my heart. The teacher from one of my online courses posted an urgent forum speaking to the hundreds if not thousands of us who shared our nagging fears about our futures. When will we get to the other side? We were all so paralyzed by the same questions. We all doubted ourselves in one way or another. We were halted and yet our lives were brilliantly drifting along. Dense. Fleeting. Invisble.

Toss your doubt aside, the teacher said. She looks like someone who was practiced at doing that. At not letting her doubts ruin a perfectly good vision for life.

Last week I gave a lecture to new teachers entitled Soul of the Teacher. “Practice trusting your own soul,” my husband suggested. I showed up with my favorite poems. I came to listen. The women echoed back to me their own fears. The wanting to know. The wanting to grasp. The wanting to have certainty. I loved them so much for admitting out loud what I wondered about too.

If I trusted myself more, I would no longer question if I was enough.

This from Mary Oliver:
…though I play at the edges of knowing/truly I know/our part is not knowing/but looking, and touching, and loving/which is the way I walked on/softly,/through the pale, pink morning light.

And this from Parker Palmer:
…there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged.

I believe in muses, the way a stroke of genius ushers itself into a body at the exact perfect moment and if not pulled in close, if not recognized or received, it would drift away as suddenly as it arrived. Moments are filled with muses. And my awareness I have come to think of as a great sieve— catching the glistening particles in these tiny openings and draining away the rest.

 

On knowing when

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On stories, Intsagram and prayer hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My inner critic was relentless.

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

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

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

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

Brace yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six years ago

Six years ago this weekend I sent my son to a wilderness program. I was reminded of the significance of the day when I saw an article in the NY times about a new theater project written by a mother who also sent her son to wilderness around the same time I did. Wow, I thought, her too.

There were a few years this exact date had come and gone without me noticing much. That was the gift of time, always ushering us along. But this year I was in my kitchen in Chicago and looked around as if taking inventory of the exact place I was standing and it was remarkable that none of my life resembled where I was six years ago.I texted my son who is now in college to remind him. He texted back, “What do you think of that?”

It was such a good question.

I suppose my pull to mention the significance of the day was innocent and even celebratory. It didn’t trigger me the way I knew it did my husband who saw value in only forgetting about it. I wondered if my son preferred I not ever bring it up again which is something I have been contemplating since for the last three and a half years I have been writing about it and reliving six years ago.

Last week I saw a film about a man who after suffering a tragedy was compelled to take apart anything in his life that didn’t work. The refrigerator had a constant leak so he took apart the appliance piece by piece until he got to the source. The door creaked too loudly. He unscrewed every hinge and laid them out on the floor until he resolved the origin of the noise. And so on and on. As a yoga teacher I used to scrupulously break down a pose bone by bone, to get at some nagging insight or break through some portal of wisdom about the universe. Except I might not have known that I was intentionally trying to “get” at anything. And now, as I find, when I write I am pulled to disassemble pieces of memory and lay them all out on the page as if I am trying to put the pieces back to some whole.

Some say forgetting is a blessing. Mother’s forget the pain of childbirth so they will be able to choose it again. My husband is happier forgetting the pain of the past. But for me, it is the pains of my past that when held up against the light of today where they no longer hurt anymore.

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. 

 

This is your brain. This is your brain off Facebook (for a week).

       Seven days ago I took myself off Facebook and Instagram. I was sick of myself checking my phone for absolutely no apparent reason a billion times more than anybody needs to check on anything.

       This was after several complaints to my close friend about how bad I felt after I spent time roaming around on my feed. How stuck I felt in my life compared to the innumerable successes and parties and vacations and workouts and yoga poses and adventures that my peripheral social circle of Facebook friends seemed to taut. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for my friends’ new homes or babies or marriages or puppies or haircuts, but there was something about Facebook that dimished my ability to have sympathetic joy. I would log off and would feel more isolated and despairing than was warranted.

      I know I am not alone.

       My close friend has taken herself off social media for this very same reason. She is a stay at home mom of two very young children and finds herself aimlessly roaming her feed (while probably) sitting in a living room strewn with toys and a sink filled with dishes. I asked her once what did she think was underneath the need we have to reach for our phones and check? “Probably escapism” she said.

       It was funny that she said that since during the week of my break, I felt like I was on vacation. Gone was the impulsivity, the low level anxiety, and the subtle malaise that would drift into my belly after a moment of weakness when I would be looking to cause myself trouble like a junkie looking for a fix. Why the urge to look up old friends I don’t speak with anymore? Why the need to scroll through pictures of an old life? “Why would you invite that karma back into your life?” asked my husband who has never had a personal profile page on Facebook.

       My other friend who has a very popular and engaged page equaits her Facebook responsiblity to a kind of stealth mission. “I just move in and out as quickly as possible.”  And still another has told me that she feels bad about herself and her life when she spends more than ten minutes on the thing. And she is a very successful therapist and yoga teacher. It’s like a substance. We know it’s not good for us, but it’s hard to resist whatever weird part of our pyche it is stroking. Sure, there are beautiful things about social media and there are people doing beautiful things and connecting in beautiful ways, absolutely. I am not writing this to round up a global Facebook boycott (nor would I ever delude myself into thinking that I had that kind of influence). There was a time not to long ago, when I didn’t know a thing about how to use Facebook or how or when I would. I had a friend sit with me at my kitchen table and instruct me on the basics. That was maybe five, six years ago.
Somewhere between then and now, my ignorance turned to appreciation turned to probably a low level addiction. It was time for either a Facebook break or a psychotic one.

       In the absence of the time suck of Facebook and Instagam voyerism here’s what I can say:  I feel better being off of it. “You are not missing much,” my ninteen year old son told me. I smiled and thought, true. I was missing a lot a more of life before  thinking that I had to keep up with informing people (what people?) of things that seemed more self-important than important.

       Since imposing these strong boundaries for myself I have had more ideas come to me and more space to cherish that make me go, “ahhhh.”
I have just about finished my first working draft of my memoir.
I have finished three competitive games of Monopoly with my family.
I have cooked three new delicious meals.
I have walked the dogs without putting my head down.
It’s not as if these things would not have happened before my self-declared break.              It’s more about how the life in between these things feels now. Somehow, they have become more precious to me than ever.
Mary Oliver writes, “I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance. A condition I can’t really call being alive.”  Pablo Neruda too has written, “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves…”

       Today would be the end of my Facebook/Instagram fast but, I will do without it for another month. I will be here living my life in Chicago. Going to the grocery store. Signaling left on the highway. Folding laundry. Walking my dogs. Feeding my cat. Exercising. Practicing. (Hopefully) buying new shoes. Thinking up fun new things to teach. Travelling. Writing in my journal. Reading with my newly purchased readers from Whole Foods. You won’t see selfies or fun hashtags about any of these things but that’s ok. I will do what my practice reminds me to do —  Trust that there is always something greater that keeps us connected.

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…]