Today, a quote: “The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. – James Baldwin
Today, a quote: “The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. – James Baldwin
Restorative Yoga is one of my favorite classes to teach and this amazes me. I am a Vata girl to the max. The Eastern Medicine system of Ayurveda posits that we are born with one or two doshas, or body types, dominant. My dominant dosha is Vata, or the air element.
Vata people need to move. And movement is a good thing for people with this body type, however, as is usually the case in life, we need to find balance, and there is a tendency toward too much movement for us vata folk. We can move so quickly that we don’t feel what’s going on in our bodies. Movement becomes a means to avoid. Vata people need to slow down enough (I’m not saying to a halt; stop and go energy exacerbates Vata) to feel our bodies, to feel our emotions and get connected. When the Vata dosha is out of balance we are disconnected, ungrounded, frantic.
Being a movement prone gal, I rarely attended Restorative classes or slower moving classes, and would feel frustrated in yoga classes that began very slowly and sleepily. I wanted to get going! So, I laugh with the universe because of course I am a Restorative teacher. I think I get as much from teaching these classes as the students get from taking them. We all leave class calmer, lighter, and more grounded.
We need to allow ourselves the time to slow down, to just be, so that we can come back into a place of balance. And although it is hard, especially for us Vata souls (and I think for most in today’s world), to stop “doing,” it is vital. There is a growing field of research on the benefits of this type of practice.
A few months ago, my close friend’s grandmother died. This friend is like family–we’ve known one another since 2nd grade– and my mom and her mom, M., are also longtime buddies, like sisters. My mom was helping M. clean out her mother’s home when they came across a box of Angel cards (“Messages from your Angels,” it says on the outside of the box). M told my mom to give me the cards, knowing they’d be up my alley. When my mom handed me the box that evening, I accidentally dropped it and one card slipped out onto the floor. My Angel, Gabrielle, had a message for me: “You have an important life purpose involving communication and the arts. Please don’t allow insecurities to hold you back. I will help you.”
I have spent many years of my life in hiding, fearful of messing up or failing or maybe even shining too brightly. Over the last two years, since I began my yoga teaching career, I have taken more risks than ever before–leaving my zone of comfort and sharing my truth with others, opening my heart to others. Allowing myself to be vulnerable. It feels like coming out of the shadows. And some days, as I’ve written in past posts, the teaching feels inspired and connected, like a fluid dance between myself and students. On other days, it’s more like an awkward first date: silence that feels strained and heavy. On those less than inspiring days, I gaze longingly at my old hiding spot, wondering why I left. My old insecurities re-emerge and cause me to question if this is an appropriate path for me, a shy girl.
Gabrielle, the Angel, reminds me that growth happens when we move into and through our fears, not away from them. I needed the encouragement on that particular evening and silently thanked my friend’s Grandmother, Gigi, for sharing her Angel cards with me.
Today I taught yoga classes for kids at a school carnival. These little people were so eager to listen and sing and bring their hands together at their hearts. They also love barking in Downward Facing Dog, howling at the moon in Upward Facing Dog and hopping like bunny rabbits. They are pure joy. Pure love. They reminded me tonight, after a mundane day (the grey, damp weather reflecting the blah-ness of the day), of the joy in simple moments and the power we have to shift our perspective.
Last night, I was reading an article on Happiness in The Sun Magazine. The author, Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, writes: “Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy.”
I feel, on some days, when the stars are aligned, hugely grateful for what I have in my life and full of love and, yet, on other days the things I do not have seem to be obstacles to my happiness. When I look around (especially in Facebook land) everyone my age seems to have basic external markers that I do not yet have (a family, a home of my own) and I wonder what the heck happened to me and sink into a state of lack. It does not feel good there. It seems in these moments that those missing pieces will provide me with the happiness I seek and yet I know, on a deeper level, that external circumstances will never change the way I feel about myself, will never make me happy if I am not already. Csiksgentmihalyi (not even going to even try pronouncing that) reflects that happiness does not occur only when “external conditions are favorable” and, actually, seems to occur more when they are not (or at least when we have moved outside of comfort). He writes that those “who have lived through near-fatal physical dangers often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinarily rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend.”
I had once partially filled out a questionnaire for a website; the question I’d left off on was “Are you happy?” This question kept popping up in my inbox, a reminder that I had yet to complete the questionnaire. “Are you happy?” it chided me.
I finally filled the damn thing out. I checked “Yes”, knowing that I have the power to be happy right now, in each moment that I choose to be present.
Maybe all I have to do is howl at the moon in Upward Facing Dog. Awwoooo! Now that makes me happy.
Here are some ordinary/extra-ordinary moments from the day:
Rain. The sound. The feel on my face. Some days I love the gloominess of the rain.
Morning cuddles with my kitty cat. A few scratches thrown in the mix, of course (I am accustomed to having scratched up arms).
Peeling a big red “violation” sticker off my side window (Long story; I parked in a 2-hour visitor’s parking spot all day because I didn’t have my work parking permit). The rain helped.
Making progress on a work “to-do” list.
Early evening yoga practice with some core work … the feeling of building strength.
“Nonna’s pizza” from local pizza place. Pretty tasty.
A photo of my friend’s new puppy. Scrumptious.
A caring text from a friend.
My cat sticking his nose in my drink and then attempting to stick his paw into it. He’s obsessed with ice cubes. Needless to say, I got a new drink.
I picked up an old issue of The Sun Magazine spontaneously, realizing I had never read it, and am engrossed in the advice columns from Cary Tennis’ book, Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting, and Being.
A jazz pianist wrote to Cary for advice on his career/life path, explaining that he’s heading for his fifties and just sneaking by on his musician’s income. He writes, “We always hear heartwarming stories of people who followed their dream and never gave up and succeeded, but what of the people who followed their dream and failed?” He says that he once thought staying true to his art was everything but that now he yearns to know the satisfaction of earning a living. He’s sick of driving many miles for crappy gigs and money and is concerned about his future.
The jazz pianist’s dilemma struck a chord with me (no pun intended). I recently took on a part time office job that is unrelated to anything I am interested in but will enable me to make a living. When I was attempting to teach yoga full- time I felt stressed and pressured. I was ‘running around’ from class to class and subbing whenever I could, but it did not add up to a full-time salary. Subbing cannot be counted on for income and even permanent classes are subject to change, so there is little stability. And god forbid I taught a class that was less than great; it sent me into a downward spiral of despair and doubt, questioning whether I was any good at teaching and if I could continue on this path at all.
Cary tells the jazz musician that when he first sat down to write to him he was at a loss; he had no words. He took some time away from the computer to clear his head but still no words came. But then he noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read “Real musicians have day jobs!” Cary writes, “it was a needed reminder: Your music does not have to support you. In fact, your music might be happier if you were supporting it.” He encourages him to find part-time work to supplement his musical career or to even change paths completely if he chooses and play his music on the side. I found this oddly comforting.
The next question to Cary comes from a young woman who has had no worldly success with her writing, no tangible results to prove that her writing is worth pursuing. She wants to know when she should give up in terms of making a career of writing. Cary reminds her that writing is not only about “displaying one’s talent” but that writing is a “spiritual practice and mode of self-discovery.” He continues on to discuss the “practice,” the notion of putting in the work each day to improve one’s craft.
The universe has been sending lots of messages my way about practicing with consistency and love for the craft, and finding the grace to detach from the results. Practice is not about getting to an end point. I have been practicing every day (my writing, my yoga) and I feeling fuller, nourished, and more stable … all those things I’d been looking for when I was practicing erratically and praying I would get my big break at some point. Sure, it would be great to get the big break but what is really great is simply feeling the effects of my practice in my body, mind and soul.
A dream: I had been shot twice in the area around my heart. I didn’t realize at first that I’d been shot, didn’t feel anything, but then I looked down at my chest and saw that I had two bloody wounds. I felt a tingling sensation, a quiet pain. It wasn’t the pain that concerned me but the knowledge that the wounds were much deeper, more severe than the pain indicated and that I just couldn’t feel the full intensity of them yet. I didn’t know if the wounds were fatal so I was asking a police officer for his assessment; he seemed to reassure me that I would be okay.
The wounds, I suspect, are symbolic of my father’s death and the slow process of connecting to such big emotions. I have, for a long time, been disconnected from my emotions (a defense mechanism); my yoga and writing practices have helped to sync up my mind and body so I can feel what I am feeling, but, still, it is a slow process for me. I randomly cry in the car in response to a story on NPR (often one that seems, on the surface, unrelated) or a song.
Lately, what triggers me to feel are beings that are helpless or in pain. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a soft spot for animals. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows were almost too much for me to handle; I cried like I had lost my own family member. As I grew older, I hardened and closed my heart and didn’t feel with the intensity I once had. I had learned that it wasn’t safe to be that vulnerable. My consistent yoga practice has enabled me to re-open in the places I closed down. This opening brings with it connection and love and, also, vulnerability and pain. Recently, posts and petitions on social media about animals that are suffering hit me at the deepest place in my core. I want to save them all. I want for them to be safe and comfortable and loved. I can’t stand the idea of them being alone and scared.
My brother’s recent decision to give up the dog he adopted, a dog who has anxiety and abandonment issues that affect his behavior and make it too difficult to have him in a small city apartment, sent me into a tear fest. I couldn’t speak when I heard the news because my throat was so full of emotion. I cried for days. My words to my brother, just weeks before he made the decision, were: “Don’t give up on him!” I had sensed it.
My brother said something recently that surprised me: he said his dog’s face reminds him of our dad. We laughed and my brother’s wife asked what he meant but I knew immediately. It had occurred to me that my reaction to the news about the dog was connected to my father. My father was in pain for a long time, ever since I can remember, trapped by his addictions and suffering immensely. He was also kind and big-hearted and cared deeply about other people, especially my brother and I, who he loved fiercely and completely. He couldn’t show it in the same way a father who is “available” and “well” might, but I always felt his love.
We could not help my father. I watched him slowly devolve, deteriorate. I was in high school when I began to understand that something was very wrong. About a year before he died, I had little contact with him. There had been so many ups and downs (homeless shelters and veteran’s rehab and finally recovery and a period of health, but not for long) and I finally understood he would never change. I didn’t make a conscious effort to withdraw but it happened naturally (on both sides; he didn’t contact me often either) and the whole time I felt sad and guilty but every time I picked up the phone to call him or thought about visiting him, I could not do it.
The guilt is still there but I am dealing with it. I see it. And I know it’s the last thing he would want me to feel. I also know that he’s free now, unshackled from the chains of addiction. Our emotions are circuitous and grieving is not a linear process. We can only take it step by step, and allow the light to trickle in. As Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters us.” But we have to look at it first.
Seinfeld does a funny skit about “day guy” and “night guy.” Night guy, he says, sabotages day guy. Night guy is not at all concerned with day guy’s wake up time: day guy has to get up in 5 hours; oh well.
I think this skit is hilarious because I have a day guy/night guy personality. My “day guy” wants to get everything right, accomplish all the tasks on my “to do” list, eat healthy, exercise, and get to bed early, but by the time evening rolls around day guy is a goner and night guy is ready to parteeee (I’m thinking of the line from Bridesmaids–from my favorite scene on the airplane), and by party I mostly mean staying up late to read. Okay, okay, and eating way more than my body needs (this is where my dessert addiction comes in) and, yes, sometimes drinking vino. Before I know it, it’s way past day guy’s bedtime and I know day guy will be miserable in the morning (day guy is sensitive and needs beauty sleep), but it’s too late. The damage is done. Night guy has struck again.
How to integrate the day and night guys? Where do these disparate souls meet?
Day guy is great and all, always getting stuff done, but can become rigid and serious, consumed by the mundane details, whereas night guy is all about the big picture and couldn’t care less about the tasks on the “to do” list. I think in order to honor both the night and day aspects of our personalities we have to find equal time for being responsible and for being carefree, working hard and dancing in pajamas, accomplishing tasks and doing nothing. I think night guy is akin to the loose-y goose-y right brain hemisphere and day guy is aligned with the business-like left brain.
PS. I am in night guy mode at the moment and don’t feel like doing anything but sitting on the couch with a glass of vino and my kitty cat, which I will go do now. I will do my best to keep him in check, however, so that day guy can thrive tomorrow.
This is night guy signing off.
Tonight during my class I felt present, fully present. There is a rhythmic flow that you can step inside of when you leave the thinking mind and teach from that higher, connected place; a dance between teacher and students ensues and it can feel magical. The sequence, the words, the technical aspects of the class fall into the background–they are there but it is the energy of the class that buoys everyone, that leaves both students and teacher feeling light and whole.
Unfortunately, there are also those classes that feel “off,” when you just can’t, for whatever reason, click in, find the beat. My voice, my words, my movements feel awkward and foreign to me and I struggle through the class like I was doing hard manual labor.
This is the truth. These “off” classes are, thankfully, now rare. But when I began teaching they happened a lot, probably due to old, deep fears of being “seen” and “heard.”
I wondered if it was a good idea to share this on my blog since I teach yoga for a living, but we all have “off” classes/days and to share these truths reveals our humanity and connects us to others. I am learning to move on more quickly from the classes or experiences in life that don’t go as well as I would have liked, and to keep in mind that it is all practice. The more we practice our craft the stronger, the more experienced we become.
So instead of failing … falling. Falling is a part of the practice. I say this to students when they’re in Tree Pose because it can be so frustrating to feel unbalanced, but our balance varies day to day; we will never not wobble and, sometimes, fall.
The question is: can we learn to fall gracefully?
“The paradoxes of life are all there in the sea. The ocean is often referred to as feminine, but the weaves arrive in a masculine surge. As soon as they reach the full extent of their masculine expression, they shape themselves into a tube, a womb. . . . There are tempests and dark depths. You do not mess with the ocean. It will pummel you and chew you up. It is devastatingly brutal. And yet it can be luminous and delicate and tender. We clean our wounds there. What a reflection of our own impossible nature. We’re so brutal, so base, so horrific, and yet we have the capacity for such tenderness and warmth, such empathy, such generosity.” -Ran Ortner
I love the line: We clean our wounds there. I lingered over this sentence. I have always been drawn to the ocean. Although I did not grow up near the ocean, we are intimately acquainted. I’m Greek so I suppose the sea is in my blood. When I’m near the ocean I just feel right. The sounds. The smell. The feel. It’s like coming home. There is nowhere else I want to be.
In my twenties, I spent two summers living and working near the ocean. It was not the best time in my life; I was feeling lost. I didn’t know which direction to move in career-wise or otherwise and felt stuck and defeated by past decisions.
When I look back at this time, I see it as a period of healing my wounds. Emotional issues from the past were coming up to the surface for confrontation. I spent many hours on the soft, warm sand, listening to the ocean and writing in my journals, diving into turbulent waves and cleaning wounds. Each morning before work I sat on the sand and drank my coffee, mesmerized by the wild, soothing waters. During that first summer I began creating again–writing and making art.
It was a time filled with both dark and light. A time for touching heavy and dark emotions and releasing them through creative expression. With the fierce, gentle ocean by my side.