Friday, December 23, 2016

A Birth Day Post

It's weird to think that this body has been on this earth for 33 years now. In so many ways, a number seems so unrelatable. This body has known pain, illness, and suffering like some people think only much older bodies know. This body has known joy, delight, play, and awe like some people think only much younger bodies know. The kids all call me Shapeshifter because they recognize the truth- age is not solid. It is not a number. It is perhaps a marker of time, but it does not reveal much about our experience of that time. One can live a hundred years and never allow oneself to feel true joy. One can live eight years and possess the wisdom of a sage.

Today I reflect on what I have discovered in this life, which I am more grateful for in this moment than I have ever been. I am more myself than ever before, and less concerned with being any other way than how I am. I like to call this, the "not giving a fuck". But it's not heartless. It's not giving a fuck with compassion. Because it's rooted in space. It's rooted in wanting to wake up myself and everyone else. If I stop manipulating my own existence to try to please others or meet arbitrary expectations, then maybe others will notice and they'll stop too. It comes from deep care.

I truly feel that I am on this earth to be of benefit to others, especially to children and families. My heart is ablaze with this passion and this calling, and I have dedicated my life to create spaces for families and children to relax and be themselves, and touch in with their inherent wisdom and brilliance. This brings me no end of delight. I truly am deeply and unfathomably fortunate.

This year, things feel more aligned. I feel still and whole and like I have taken my seat in life. I have relaxed with myself. I have space in my mind and heart. I have a strong community. I have a deep and incredibly nourishing spiritual practice. I am so so so loved, and I feel that. And I love so so so so much, and I feel that too.

Having been born is awe-inspiring. To be me is incredible and ever changing, never permanent. I am so grateful for another year. If I live another, may it be to benefit you all, to bring love and wisdom and light to this world, and to help all beings know their inherent goodness.

Thank you all for all the ways you love, support, and nourish me. I love you deeply.

I leave you with this poem which I came across quite by accident this morning, but which rings so true for me:

Christmas at Midlife
by Mary Anne Perrone
I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Risk the Mess

Sometimes, we like things tidy. Nice and neat. They can fit in little packages, so we can keep track- measure them, count them, organize them. And sometimes, that's fine. Like in your closet or your filing cabinet.

But how often do we apply this need for tidiness to our human experience? To our own heart? Or to other people?

Epic Valentine Making
As many of you know, I work with children. So let's just start with literal messes. I find myself sometimes shying away from certain activities because of the cleanup they involve. I catch myself doing this and I wonder why I care so much. Is an extra 5 minutes of sweeping glitter actually a problem? Ultimately, no. But there's fear and laziness. There's also subtle conditioning of a culture and a society which condemns such uncontained expressions of shimmering brilliance, and thinks time would be better spent on more linear endeavors.

Glitter project!
When I notice my impulse to say no in the face of a mess, I check myself. And I say yes. I documented all the messes the kids and I made in one day. It was the best day. It was a day when creative impulses arose and had the space to be expressed. It was a day when relationships were deepened. When books were read with wild abandon. When every day items expressed their true magic. It was a day for dirty feet, dirty hands, and glitter everywhere. It was a day with lots of happy children (and at least one happy grown-up). And maybe you're wondering about the clean-up? It was totally fine! A little extra time, but a lot of helping hands. And the goodness of the whole situation made it easy.

What if we could make messes like this in every day life? What if we could accept the mess of love? What if we could love another person outside of nice, neat little boundaries and expectations? What if we couldn't measure or count or even explain our feelings but we let ourselves feel them anyway? What if we approached every relationship without the fear of cleaning up? I suspect things would sparkle a whole lot more. It's like coating your entire life with glitter. Some people might moan upon contemplating that, as if glitter is a nuisance. But it also makes everything more beautiful. It shines. It sparkles. It doesn't apologize!

How much of our lives do we spend apologizing for who we are, for how we feel, for not being this way or that way, good enough, skinny enough, eating healthy enough, ad nauseum.

It rained gnomey stones!
To me, the mess is a metaphor for genuine human experience. If we are willing to look at the nature of things as they are, we do not find that they can all be filed into neat little categories. The human experience is all over the spectrum. Who we are is ever changing. How we feel is ever changing. Who others are is ever changing, and thus how we relate to other people is ever changing. When we can approach situations or other people, or even ourselves, with curiosity, then we finally taste genuineness. Yes, it might be uncomfortable not to place expectations on others (or on yourself). It is likely difficult at times as well. You may even have to face the reality of things as they are, which could be unpleasant or not what you expected. You might even see your own habitual patterns, assumptions, and fears. But if you go there, then you can also find what's underneath: space.

Teepee fort
It's the space to feel how you feel, be who you are, dance when you want, and really connect with the magic of being. Children have an easier time of this. You want to build a teepee? Just do it. No hesitation. Who cares that sheets are supposed to go on beds, or that we have to leave the house in 15 minutes, or that we'll have to clean up later. We just want to sit in a teepee. It's not that big of a deal. And it's true to the moment. Or we want glitter on our shoes. Great. No internal voice starts to think what other people will think of you for wearing sparkly shoes. No voice nags at you about how there will be glitter all over the house for a month, or how you shouldn't waste it like that, or how you paid so much money for those shoes and blah blah blah. Just go for it. Risk the mess.

Risk loving. Risk feeling. Risk looking. Risk listening. Risk being yourself.

You might just find that your inner nature is actually a pegasus unicorn with rainbow sparkles. Or a purple lightning breathing dragon. Or maybe, just maybe, you find that you can love yourself for exactly who you are. It's radical. But it's so worth it.

This was the third time the jewels were all over the dirt.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sukha of Being

Yoga means yoke. I tell this to my students, as I show them a picture of an ox and a cart, with the yoke between. Though I’ve read many an article explaining that this isn’t at all what the word meant in its original context, it’s still a good way to teach kids about yoga. About joining the mind and body and learning to be present in our experience.

My journey into my own mind and body has been long, has worn many faces, and is still evolving and growing- as I hope it always will. The most recent iteration of this continuum for me has been especially important.

Having become a devoted student of a Tibetan Buddhist Lineage in the past five years, and delving incredibly deeply into the teachings and practices of this path, I was struggling to find the intersection of these teachings with my devotion and practice of yoga. I had also become a yoga teacher in those same five years, and had found my way into the eight limbs with equal fervor as the eightfold path.

Perhaps because I wasn’t practicing in a specific yogic lineage, perhaps because I had only found a few teachers who really seemed to embody the teachings yoga had offered me in my life, or perhaps simply because I was not ready, I couldn’t reconcile the two paths in my life. It’s not that they were conflicting. In fact, so much about them was overlapping. I didn’t only meditate in my Buddhist practice, but also in yoga. In fact my meditation practice highly influenced my asana practice. And my asana practice allowed me to deepen into incredibly long meditation practices, even being able to sit on silent retreat for a month.

My craving was more subtle. I kept thinking perhaps I should go to yet another teacher training, find a lineage, etc. etc. I was seeking someone or something outside myself to plug me into a certain depth of yoga that I had felt in my Buddhist practice. I wanted the two practices to dance my life into a seamless devotion. I didn’t want to have to choose between waking up at 5:30 am to go to class, or to sit my butt on the cushion.

Meanwhile, I showed up to class on New Year’s Day and the studio was offering unlimited yoga for the month of January for $99. They were doing a 30 Day Challenge- class every day, meditation every day, listing your gratitudes, and noticing your acts of kindness. The whole community was in on it. There was a pose of the day each day- teachers incorporated it into class, we heard stories about it, quotes about it. I signed up- although I have notable aversion to things like 30 day challenges. I find that too often in this fast paced society, it’s really easy to use things like this to not take care of ourselves, not listen to our bodies, and not find space in our lives. I find I can do things for all the wrong reasons. If I’m kind just so I can get points to win prizes, is that true kindness? If I practice every single day, even at the expense of my own well being- is that really practice?

I signed up, thinking that at least I could go to some of my favorite classes for much less money than usual, not intending to actually do the challenges. Then the first email came. And I was thinking- actually I already did all of these things today- I meditated, I was kind, I was grateful- why not just send them in? So I did. These are things that I do every day. This is part of my life practice. I sit regularly. I practice kindness and compassion. I touch in with gratitude. These are neither new to me, or a struggle at this point in my life.

I haven't gone to class every day. Nor have I sent in my challenges every day. But something has happened over the course of this month. Maybe it was being part of this community and seeing other people’s journeys into yoga, hearing their stories. Maybe it was going to classes I never would have otherwise attended- the new teachers I discovered I loved, and the ones I definitely didn’t. Maybe it was realizing I didn’t have to choose between dhyana or asana- that there was actually space in my life for both and that in fact they were inseparable. Maybe it was just the container created by this challenge- the space held by the teachers, and by ourselves to go deeper into our practice- whatever that meant.

What I discovered was an intimacy with myself that I had been out of touch with. I discovered the dance between intimacy and authenticity in my body. Intimacy is defined as close familiarity, or friendship. We are all craving intimacy- longing for it. It’s that connection that drives the human heart. It’s looking another being in the eyes. It’s wanting to be yourself without having to hide anything from another person or yourself. It’s longing to share the beautiful moments, or to have someone else understand your experience. It’s sitting in silence with someone else. It’s holding the hands of your children. It’s letting the grass tickle your bare feet, or feeling the caress of the wind. It’s being moved to tears on the drive to work because the sunrise is so beautiful. 

In meditation, we get to know our minds- know the ins and outs, the favorite habitual thoughts, the go-to reactions, and we befriend those things. We learn to hold them tenderly so they do not overpower us. And while I had experienced this with my mind and heart during meditation, I had not been in touch with my body in the same way. 

Two years ago, I suffered a stroke, only to discover I have a hole in my heart. This dance with death, impermanence, and the fragility of the human body left me with much insight but also a mistrust of my own physical body. Accepting that I could die at any moment was profound for me, but I think it allowed me to disconnect a bit from my physical experience. It wasn’t tuning out. In fact, I was so tuned in to every sensation, it became fear-based. At the slightest quiver of something unusual I was convinced the time was now (Awareness of its ins and outs can be mastered without the slightest bit of friendship.) I would die. And this was not okay. But I knew I had to trust my body while I was in it. And trust that its certain decay was good and whole too. And trust that its end would be exactly what I needed when I needed it. There was nothing to mistrust. Nothing to fear.  Through many healing modalities I had slowly begun to regain trust in my own human body. I began to make friends. With the patience and adoration of a lover, I wanted to appreciate all the pieces. I could even build a trusting relationship with my body and its physical experience. Over the past month, my yoga practice has become an even more deeply attuned way to cultivate and nourish this relationship. I have seen and felt my own bodily wisdom manifest itself time and time again- knowing how to move, when to stop, and where to breathe.

In asana practice, we learn the intricacies of our bodies. The way our toes curl as we move from plank back to down dog. The particular sensation in chair when we have managed to move our weight enough into our heels that we can bend the knees more deeply. Where our edge rests each moment- when to push and when not. We learn the ebbs and flows of each day- the myriad ways our bodies manifest on the mat, never the same. We have to let go of our agendas and our projections of how we are, how we should be, and how we are supposed to be. In fact, when we are truly there, nothing is left but for us to show up exactly as we are. In true surrender to the asana, we lose even our capacity for exploiting our lower backs because we are so honest with ourselves we recognize it immediately. The more I know the subtleties of my body, my movement, my sensations, the more I can’t pretend. The more all the facades fall away. Yoga loses its ability to be about doing really cool arm balances (sorry, ego!), about achieving some goal, or about escaping death and becomes the ability to be so intimate with my own experience, my own body, heart, and mind, that I can actually show up genuinely. I can love my experience- whatever it is. I can trust it- trust my bones, my muscles, my five senses- trust their impermanence too. Trust my own bravery to look even at the things that are difficult to see. Trust my strength to be there whether I’m standing strong or falling down. And I think it’s this trust that is the yoking. Trust in things as they are gives us liberation from being attached to them. Trust in the world allows us to know that this perceived reality isn’t the ultimate truth. The yoking allows for the letting go. This is the reconciliation of all that feels separate in us- our paths, our practices, our perceptions. We just have to trust, and be exactly who we are, and automatically, that is union. That is true yoga.