Teachings

 

I am in morning practice recently feeling quite overwhelmed by the world, and its ways of late. While my mind spins, I find myself automatically going into tree pose. Immediately, I feel more rooted. This welcomed grounded-ness holds me despite the wavering of my upper body. Once established in  balance, I look up only to be met with the purest of reflections from all the trees outside my window.

I sense, feel, and intuit guidance from what I am looking at. I hear how some things in Life are meant to remain beyond the reach of the changing world. Equally, there are some things that are ever-changing. I wonder to myself how it is that I can stay sourced in those things that are meant to remain fixed. And I consider how it is that I can access those places that know how to bend, flex, and are meant to be mutable.

I realize that these polar opposites, taken together, are the qualities of a life well-lived. A life fully expressed. A life that recognizes when to stand firm, and when to yield. A life that nourishes and is nourished. A life that dies and is reborn.

Some of the very best teachings I have ever received have come from the natural world. This requires, though, a kind of slowing down, openness, and receptivity to seeing beyond the daily; beyond the man-made. And so, if you were to be open to the teachings of the trees, one question might be; How could you hold yourself both more flexibly, and with greater conviction?

Here

 

As awe-inspiring as it is to take note of the capacities of the thinking that has created the technologies, we must also include the ways in which our creations have magnified and exacerbated the troublesome sides of the human brain. One example of this is the ordinary mind, and how often it believes that some where, some one, or some thing else, is better than here. More desirable than where we currently are, or are with.

As someone who has been watching her mind for decades through a combination of practices, including mindfulness and meditation, I daily, and sometimes even moment to moment, watch how my mind will tell me that there is another place to be; a more superior place to be than wherever I am. I see it when I am sitting in meditation thinking that when I am done, and getting to have breakfast, that will be better than where I am. I see it when I am doing errands and catch myself believing that when I get home, it will be more of where I most want to be. I see it mid-week when I start to feel that when the weekend is here, and I am done teaching, then I will finally be in the better place.

Only… What I regularly notice is that whenever I get to the some where else, or some thing else, or some one else, not only am I not necessarily better, there arises a whole new set of places, conditions, and circumstances I would rather have or be experiencing. I am even doing it now as I write, believing that when I am done with this section, that life will be better. That it is somehow more desirable for me to get on to the next thing instead of being exactly right here; where I am.

Enter the mobile devices. The ones that travel with us through all of our here and now’s. The very same ones that connect us to an infinite array of some other place, some other person, and some other thing to do. If we choose, this can happen in a virtually non-stop kind of way. And when we use the screens in this way, it feeds the distorted notion that there is not much value in being fully wherever we are; compounding our tendency to try and escape what is happening, or who we are with, or how we are feeling. With the devices, there is always a way out. There is always a way to pacify the part of the mind that needs to have another experience, feel another way, attain the happiness it seeks someplace else. Anywhere else. Except of course, for here.

But the truth is, no where is better than here.   

Yoga Nemesis

Every Wednesday I take a yoga class in at a local studio. This is the only day each week that I practice with others. As someone who usually practices on her own, this means a great deal to me. There is so much that I learn each and every week. And while I go to this class to practice in community, and to be challenged on the level of physical yoga, it is often a great surprise to me what it is that I end up learning.

For instance, I get to see each week exactly what I want to happen, or wish would happen, and then, what actually happens; along with my response to the gap between my fantasized reality and the actual reality. I get to see that because this time is so special to me, I want others to feel and act the same way. I want them to line up with my version of how we should be together, what this should mean to us, and therefore, how we should act.

I most certainly do not want to accept the woman who comes in late almost every single week, and then disrupts the class while she gets her things, and then somehow manages to get other people to rearrange their mats for her, even though the class has started. I do not want to accept her side-talking with a friend, or the way that she takes up so much of the teacher’s attention, or the overall space in the room. And I definitely do not want to accept her sighs and her huffing and puffing when the teacher offers something she can’t, or doesn’t want to do.

Last week, 15 minutes into class, this same woman comes in and winds up right in front of me. Based on the configuration of the class, I am actually facing her. A mirror. Even with my eyes closed, I can see her. I can feel her. I am thinking about her. What am I thinking? I am thinking about how she, in her selfish self-absorption, is killing the yoga vibe. And right as I am about to self-righteously launch into how often in life the wrong things or the wrong people get all the attention, or at least the right of way, I am suddenly struck dumb in my thinking. What comes in behind the disruption of my thoughts is; I am the one who is giving the wrong thing attention. I am the one who is giving the wrong thing the right of way. I am killing the yoga vibe. I am keeping the wrong thing alive in this room within me, based on what I have chosen to focus on, giving it the right of way, and allowing it to take up my precious time, energy, and focus.

As my first yoga teacher used to say, “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”

The Apocalypse Is Upon Us

 

My daughter recently sent me a photo that she had taken on her college campus. The image shows a big expanse of space with lots and lots of students in it. What was the most striking feature in the shot? Everyone is on their phone. Beneath the photo she wrote; “The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us.”

This so heart-breakingly exemplifies my experience of late teaching at the college level. For the very first time in over a decade, I am beginning to wonder how long I will continue teaching. I am questioning what I do not because I am burnt out, or out of passion for what I teach, or lacking in creative ideas for lesson plans. I am not considering life out of academia because I am retiring, or because I am wanting to do something else. It is purely because I do not know how much longer I can teach to students who are so rarely in a position to learn. Based on recent conversations with other teachers at both the college and secondary level, I am not alone.

Regularly, students come to class exhausted, sick and hungry. Regularly, students show up expecting the information to be predigested and then down-loaded to them. Add to this the technologies. Right up to the moment that they step into class, they are on their phones. And then, it is the first thing they go to when class lets out. Many have told me that even when it is not with them in the room (as it cannot be in the class I teach) it is what they are thinking about nonetheless. Recently a student told me that she cannot wait to get out of class to rush back to her apartment so that she can be freely on her phone without interruption. She has noticed how much she is just dying to get back to catch up on what has happened, on what she has missed for the last hour or two; only to be left too often with an empty feeling and a wondering about why it is that she is doing this.

I am watching myself very, very closely now. I am asking myself to be aware of when it is that I am the hardest working person in the room. I am also watching them very, very closely to see if I can discern when it is that they cross over into some place where there is no coming back from. A place where the human call can no longer reach them. A place where they officially have become zombies, interested only in the call of their master; the screen.

Fundamentals

 

Every Wednesday I take a yoga class where the teacher guides us through many postures that I know well. She also guides us in postures that not only have I never done before, but that I also have never seen or heard of. I like this. Why? Because every week lots and lots gets revealed to me about me, and the ways I most want to live.

For instance, lately I am seeing that there are those extreme, rare, and unique shapes to put my body and mind into that run parallel to what I encounter in life. And while I can sometimes believe that I need to prepare and know ahead of time how to approach or manage everything that comes my way, I can see that this is not true. I can see that there is another way.

How this shows up on the mat is that when I am practicing never before encountered poses, what is required of me falls into two categories. First, I am asked to engage in a kind of presence, openness, willingness and receptiveness as the leading response to what I am involved with no matter how challenging, foreign, or out of my comfort zone.

Second, these out of my comfort zone experiences demand a kind of baseline strength, balance, and flexibility that is honed through my daily habits and practices. What this looks like on the yoga mat is that the fundamental skills that I have developed over years of practice put me in a better position to attempt, be with, and oftentimes be “successful” with postures that I have never done before.

What I am suggesting here is the dual work of daily finding opportunities to both open and strengthen yourself in ways that allow you to be with all of you, and with all of life’s challenges. This approach relies on the development of a kind of inner strength and confidence that is built on attending daily to what needs strengthening in your life. To what is calling for more balance. And to what is demanding more flexibility on your part.

Adjustments

 

I am laying in bed, not sleeping for the umpteenth night in a row. Why? Because I am brainstorming about how I can take care of the excessive light that is coming into our bedroom at night. Since moving into our new home, we have gone from  a dark cave to a brilliantly lit room. Lovely during the day. Intrusive at night.

On one particular night, I catch myself. I hear what is underneath all the ruminating I am doing in my mind about this. Beyond the realities of the importance of a dark room for a good night’s sleep, I begin to sense something else. That being, that all of this trying to manage something is my way of trying to get it all just so, so that I can finally be OK.

The sheer recognition of this loosens something inside, creating enough inner space for me to wonder; Even with things as they are, could I still choose to be OK right now without anything needing to change? Could I choose to make the adjustments that are within my power to make, when the opportunities to do so present themselves, and then be willing to be with things exactly as they are? Could I let go of all of the obsessive fixing, fussing, and rearranging that I am doing in my mind? Could I let go of needing things outside of myself to be a certain way? This is no easy thing to do, programmed as I am, to believe that life must line up just so in certain areas of my life.

It is such a human thing to try and improve upon things in our outer circumstances. It is so very normal to imagine how things could be different. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The problem arises when we live as if we cannot be OK unless… Or until… We can even go so far as to build a whole life based on trying to get things to turn out how we think we need them to be.

Again and Again

 

I am about to teach my Wednesday night yoga class when I hear that a young man from our town has died of an overdose. He was 19 at the time of his death.

The news sits heavy on my chest as I teach. It begins to dawn on me who this boy was. My husband coached him in basketball. My two children went to grade school with him. As I am brought back to memories of my own children at that age, it is almost unbearable to imagine the fate of this young man through the memory of the boy that he was.

At some point, my mind turns to my 19 year old “boy.” Now enough of a young man to be living on his own in Nashville while he follows his dream of making it in the music world. Thinking of this world, and its proclivity to destroy lives through drugs and alcohol, I feel a hungry mother’s need to hear his voice. To be assured that he is OK. And while I don’t necessarily enjoy sharing this kind of news, I am yearning to connect with him through the feelings that have been stirred up through the news of this death.

Only. He has already “heard.” Seen actually.  “Someone posted it.” Days ago as a matter of fact. And here we are again. And again, and again, and again. With seemingly no end in sight to the ways that the technologies can disconnect us from the intimacies of our lives together, derailing us emotionally and relationally.

What is deep, private, personal, and meant to be life-stopping gets transmuted into what is shallow, public, impersonal, and just another piece of information in an endless news feed; nothing whatsoever available through this medium that would set this event apart from sexy pics, political rants, sports stories, cute sharings and narcissistic ramblings.

Inch by inch, or more to the point, post by post, the most precious, holy and noteworthy between us is being swallowed up in a technological sea of sharings so vast, continuous and muddied that it drowns out and obscures what more than anything else requires the respect of human conveyance in real time and on a human scale. And so, in the end, what will it matter that we can post every single detail about our lives immediately, while simultaneously not being known in the ways that matter most?

Wrong Places & Wrong Times

 

I am at a yoga retreat a couple of weeks ago; one that I have been very much looking forward to as a way of not only deepening my own practice, but as importantly, affording me an opportunity to connect with others over something that means a lot to me, in a time out of time sacred setting. So, to say that I was taken aback by the nearly constant presence of smart phones and tablets across the weekend would be a massive understatement.

It begins and ends with the smart phone that sat on my teacher’s mat before him as we practiced, and then wound up being fiddled with in his hands during teaching sessions. It continues with the participants who immediately reach for their phones as soon as the morning practice is over. It shows up at the lunch break as the devices replace the beautiful outdoor setting, conversations with others, and time spent alone in silence. It creeps in during our afternoon talks as the woman next to me checks her messages, and at one point watches a video.

Across the weekend, three of the women spend a good deal of their break time sitting on a couch together sending each other pictures and comments about the amazing time we are having together. On the night that there was talk about a fire gathering outside, nothing materializes as too many of our little group are actively involved with what is coming across their screens. And on the last day, as we are walking down the driveway heading out for a short and known walk, several people have a gasp response when they realize that they do not have their phones on them. Not to worry, the teacher has his.

What reveals itself here is that despite all that we believe can happen via the technologies, there is so very much more that is not happening and that is never being given a chance to happen. Things are being lost without the recognition that we are losing them. Things like the impromptu conversations that take you somewhere you could not get to on your own. Things like the quiet reflection of nature and what it might reveal to you, or in you. Things like the universal knowing that there is a time and a place for everything, and that if we allow the technologies domination over all of our spaces, our losses will be too vast for words, and ultimately, too enormous to live with.

Where are you allowing wrong place, wrong time scenarios in your life with the technologies?

Letting Go

 

We are on the brink of a seasonal letting go. A time when the brighter, hotter, busier and more outward energy of summer will give over to the softer, cooler, slower and more inward energy of fall. Nothing in the natural world clings, fights, resents, or laments when it’s time is up. Day gives way to night. Summer gives way to fall. Blooms give way to seed. Leaves give way to their role as fodder for the next year’s growth.

Equally, we as human beings will always have things to let go of; old shoes, rotten food, household clutter, the breath, relationships, and ways of being that no longer serve us. Truly, the list is far too vast and continuous to capture in words. And still, we resist letting go of things we have a strong attachment to. We hold on when we don’t know what will happen next. At times we do let go of our grip only because it has become so glaringly obvious or painful that whatever it is just has to go. And then, of course, there are the times when things gets ripped from us without our permission or consent.

But what if there was a way to begin to cultivate an appreciation, along with a skill set, that allowed for a more conscious response to life in this regard; one that recognized that letting go regularly throughout our lives is as necessary, and ultimately easy, as letting go of one breath in order to make room for the next one to come in?

Swami Kripalu, a wise yogic master, once said that a yogi dies a little bit each day, and then death becomes the next thing. This “dying” that he refers to is not only death in the literal sense, it speaks also to all of the little and big releases we are required to make across a lifetime. When we can loosen a little bit of our hold on life, we not only prepare for the ultimate and unavoidable and big letting go, but as importantly, we make room in life for more ease and more alignment with the realities of life.

If we want some help learning the ins and outs of letting go naturally, rhythmically and cyclically let us look to those forms that know not only how to let go when the time is ripe, but equally how to fully inhabit and express the life they were given when their time is here. Each and every one of us will let go many, many times in one lifetime whether we want to or not. Each and every one of us will let go one last and final time. Why not choose to know this as the approach to living more fully, gracefully and truthfully?

Deprivation

 

Deprivation. The state of something being withheld. Most of us have strong feelings and associations about being deprived. Some of us using deprivation to punish ourselves. Others of us going to great lengths to avoid the experience of going without at all costs.

But, what if there is another way to think about this? What if the act of renouncing something was purposeful, conscious and meaningful? What if it was done for a greater aim or perspective? What if some distance from what we regularly, habitually and unconsciously do might benefit from some separation?

I have been fasting once a month for upwards of 36 hours since April. My plan is to do this until May of 2018 as preparation for a vision quest I will be doing at that time. As so many things go, I got into this for one reason, but have found many, many more reasons, side effects, and benefits along the way. And so, while I am doing this to prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for a longer duration of fasting, this intention may be the least of what I gain from this experience. In short, fasting has brought me up against my relationship to hunger in all of its forms, how I use food in ways that are not supportive, and what it is that I do when I have needs that the world is not satisfying.

What do you habitually, regularly and unconsciously do that could benefit from some separation? Gossip? Screen time? Criticism? Alcohol? Sugar? Coffee? Judgment? Where do you overindulge? And while yes, there will be discomfort; physical, emotional and mental, and while yes, because of how we have been conditioned it might feel like punishment, it is anything but.

P.S. This is one of those things that you can only learn by doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.