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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.

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?

 

Here I am showing up to my practice. This is not easy for me; my writing practice has been ruled by inspiration and inspiration alone, which comes and goes like the wind or ever-changing moon, and so it has been a spotty practice. A wildly erratic practice, in fact. Making this commitment to write each day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, feels good. And scary (am I up for the challenge, now that I have boldly announced it?). And a little boring (every day?). But also refreshing and exciting within the boringness (is boringness a word?). I have nothing to say, was my first thought after logging onto my blog. But now, look, whaddayaknow, I have completed a paragraph. It’s a start! And the starting is the hardest part.

I am trying (oh-so hard) not to edit and judge my words as I type them, but to allow them to be, just be (I can always go back and revise after, I reassure my inner critic). I have come to realize that one of my biggest blocks to fulfilling my goals/dreams is perfection (aka a fear of messing up). Perfection is the pesky culprit of procrastination and sucks the life right out of creativity. I am learning how to gracefully accept my flubs, to be kinder to myself when I mess up, so that I don’t send my creative spirit into hiding, where she has already spent too much time.

I have recently begun teaching classes that blend yoga and journaling. This class is about creative self expression. We move slowly, steadily (one breath at a time) away from our analytical left brain and into the open, bright space that can be accessed in our hippy-loving right brain, so that we can express ourselves freely, with abandon (no rules; just write). In intervals throughout the practice, I offer creative inspiration and writing prompts and then invite students to jot down images, snippets of memories, draw pictures … to release onto paper whatever is bubbling to the surface. The writing does not have to be profound. It does not have to be poetic. It does not have to be anything. That is the beauty of the practice. We are giving our well-meaning but annoying friend, perfection, the boot for the day.

I recently read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing. She writes: “The two greatest shocks I have experienced–my parents’ accident and my son’s illness–ignited in me what had been an already flickering flame of awareness–some might even say a hyperawareness–that life is fragile. That bad things have happened and, without a doubt, will again. That to love anything at all is to become able to lose it. Some days, this awareness gets the better of me. Anxiety sets in. I grow impatient and controlling. Or I retreat from the world. But more often than not, this burden of accumulation feels like a gift. It has taught me that ordinary life–or what Joan Didion calls ‘ordinary blessings’–is what is most precious. … We are revealed to ourselves–just as our characters are revealed to us–through our daily actions. When making my son’s breakfast, I try to focus simply on cracking the eggs, melting the butter, toasting the bread. It doesn’t get more elemental than that. As I drive down country roads taking Jacob to school, I remind myself to focus on the way the sunlight plays on the surface of a pond, the silhouettes of cows in a field. I’ve learned that it isn’t so easy to witness what is actually happening. The eggs, the cows. But my days are made of of these moments. If I dismiss the ordinary–waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen–I may just miss my life” (p.123).

And so, word by ordinary word, I am creating. I am practicing. One word in front of the other. One word at a time. You get the idea. Just get them out, and onto paper or screen. That is the secret (to Still Writing; as in “are you still writing?”). I finally understand.

Last weekend, I had plans to have tea with a student from my yoga class. We had been saying for months that we would get together and had finally set a date. I planned to get a certain amount of work accomplished in the first half of the day, and when the time to meet neared I realized I had not met my goal. I thought for a moment about asking if we could reschedule and was answered by my inner voice: “Stick to your commitments.” So I bundled up in my winter gear and stepped into the cold air. The snow had been whirling down from the sky all day. I walked the 15 minute path to the cafe, welcoming the feel of snowflakes on my face.

At the cafe, I ordered a green tea and sat at a small table, watching the door until I spotted my friend/student. I had not seen her in months and after we hugged, she pointed to her belly as she unbuttoned her coat. She was pregnant! She had trekked in the snow to meet me. She was happy to get outside and move her body, she said. We sat there, at the cafe, chatting about life for hours. It’s rare to meet people you feel completely comfortable around and she is one of those people.

I am working on sticking to my commitments (to myself and others) every day. Step by step. I realize now that every seemingly small decision counts, that all of the day-to-choices we make accumulate into something big: our reality. These daily decisions and habits are the threads of the tapestry that become our life experience. It’s okay if we mess up; it’s unavoidable (I shared this sentiment in my yoga class a couple of weeks ago and one student exclaimed aloud, “I’m in trouble!”). This isn’t meant to be a militant message (clean up your act or else!); it is simply a reminder that we have the power to change. At any moment. With each decision we confront.

Later that day, after meeting my friend for tea, I was back home doing research for a job I would be interviewing for and came across this sentence: “Excellent outcomes are the result of excellent habits”, followed with a quote by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.” I smiled at the synchronicity of the message.

I take a lot of classes during the week on YogaGlo (online yoga classes). One of my favorite teachers on the site, Marc Holzman, teaches a class called “The 60:60 Challenge for Endurance, Strength and Detachment.” Marc instructs us to hold each pose for 60 seconds throughout a 6o minute practice, committing fully to each posture, slowing down the practice enough to feel what’s happening in your body and mind. He reminds students that consistency, practicing each day (even if it’s only for 10 minutes) is the key to meeting your goals. It’s not the action of making goals that allows us to attain them (although that is step 1); it’s doing the work each day: that nitty gritty work that we love to avoid. Marc offers, the cool thing is that you can detach from the goal because you’re putting in the daily work that will take you to where you need to go; that’s when trust comes in. You can’t rely on motivation or inspiration alone, he explains, because those guys are fickle and elusive; it is consistency that you must befriend. For those of us who are not exactly consistent by nature (hello fellow Vata peeps), it is a hard earned lesson and one that needs to be learned over and over. And, yes, it takes discipline, Marc admits, but you get into a groove.

In the “60:60” class, Marc discusses the art of writing as an example of consistency. Lately, he shares, he has read a lot of blogs whose authors repeat the same message: the key to success is doing something, in this case writing, every single day (that annoying hashtag #yogaeverydamnday makes more sense to me now): wake up each morning and practice (yoga, write, meditate).

Last night, I was reading Sy Safransky’s preface to his new book, Many Alarm Clocks, in the February 2015 issue of The Sun, my favorite literary journal. He wrote this: “I write in my notebook early in the morning, almost always before the sun comes up. Some of the entries are long and carefully considered; some are just two or three run-on sentences; fragments of essays I’ll never write, snatches of conversation, postcards from the dream realm … I usually write each morning for at least one hour; on some mornings maybe a half-hour. Writing something every day is important to me – no matter how little sleep I’ve gotten or what mood I’m in. When I’m faithful to the practice, my skin has a rosy glow, the car starts in the morning, my cats come when I call. But I’m not always faithful. Sometimes I oversleep, or I wake up worried about an impending deadline and head straight to the office. Even then, I try to remember what the physician-poet William Carlos Williams said. He was also a busy man, known to compose poems between patients. He insisted that ‘five minutes, ten minutes, can always be found.'”