doing it when it doesn’t come easy

My trip to NYC was just wonderful, and I’m so so glad I can go anytime I want, again — we walked in the park for hours, we did a lot of stuff for Heaventree, we had dinner with my stepdaughter Anna, who is about to move to London (at Awash, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant which is also in our neighborhood luckily), and we went to a concert Saturday night in Riverside Park. The Clay Tennis Court Association presents a concert series every summer on the hillside near the tennis courts, and every summer the line-up is the same, rotating through all kinds of music. Last Saturday it was Efendi, a small ensemble that plays music from the Middle East (and they pull Greece into that zone). The band comprises a clarinet, an oud, an electric guitar, and percussion instruments, and the oud player also sings.

This is Dorit — not my photo obviously; the audience faces into the sunset, so quite often the musicians and dancers were in silhouette. But isn’t she beautiful?

Every year they also bring in a gorgeous belly dancer, Dorit. Partway through the performance her students join her, and I’m telling you: it is mindblowingly gorgeous to watch them. They are mostly middle-aged and older (one woman was probably in her 80s), they are representative of NYC (a Chinese woman, a Vietnamese, a Ghanaian, an Israeli, and a variety of others), and their bodies are all sizes. And every single one of them dances like she is the most beautiful woman in the world . . . and so they are. It doesn’t matter how large their bellies might be, or how skinny, the women dance. In the last 20 minutes of the concert, the teacher asked the audience to stand up and she taught everyone how to dance, beginning with the most accessible moves — the hands, twisting and spiraling, and raising above heads. And as I looked around at the smiling audience, I could see that all of them felt beautiful, too. Honestly, this makes me cry every single year.

Several minutes later the sky became a neon pink and orange — almost lurid — but it started here, just a lozenge of color tucked under the George Washington Bridge. I love the path along the Hudson, with the streetlights and people walking, biking, talking, laughing.

It was also glorious to see the sunset again, which I miss here at Heaventree. Even when I just drive away from my house, down to the post office, I get more of a vista (though still not sunsets; I’d have to drive up the mountain to see that, I guess). I do miss sunsets, so I’ll just have to soak them up every time I’m in the city. Driving to NYC, I felt such a pleasure dropping down, down, down, down, from the elevation of the Catskills (my elevation is only 1,330 feet), down to the Hudson River, and then further down, down, down to the sea level of NYC. I love anything that wakes up my awareness to living on this planet, to the planet-ness of my life. I probably won’t go back to the city until the last weekend of August, in part because we are going to be painting this weekend and next weekend preparing for the carpet installation the following Monday — plus, I want to be up here in this remote area for the Perseid meteor shower, which is supposed to be magnificent this year.

To the point of the post’s title: doing it even when it doesn’t come easy. When I changed my life a few years ago with mindfulness and yoga, it was mysteriously easy. Mindfulness slid me into more changes than I set out to make. Mindfulness brought me into so many different ways of living, and it also helped me lose a lot of weight. I started at 155, and at my lowest I was 126 (which everyone assures me is way too low for my 5’10” height). I definitely wanted to lose some weight, but that’s not where I started. I started from a place of hating all the chaos of my mind and attention, of hating feeling shattered and fragmented, from wanting stillness, and from deciding just to do one thing at a time. And the rest just slid into place. Yoga slid right in there, and with almost no exceptions (none I can recall), it was always a pleasure and easy to head toward the mat. It was always easy to stay present there.

It still isn’t easy, this go-round. It’s not. It’s not getting easier, either. I force myself to go unroll the mat. I force myself to queue up a class. I force myself to stay sitting there. I have to play tricks on myself to remain present, which mostly means putting my phone upstairs and turning off the bluetooth speaker downstairs that connects to my phone, so I don’t hear any notifications. Today is the 17th day, and it’s no easier than it was the first day. Doing one thing at a time is no easier, and it has not been easy at any moment. My mind is no quieter. For some reason I have hung onto an image from one of the Carlos Castaneda books — that the great Raven plucks out a spirit from the vast circle of them spinning around, flying in a chaos of noise. That image feels so much like my mind, still.

Eating well has gotten easier, at least. I’ve lost 7.5 pounds since I started, which means I also get to put away the sole larger pair of jeans I’d kept because they are now too big. That feels so great. My body is feeling better in terms of feeling it — the bulk hangs around my hips and stomach, and there being less bulk just feels better. My chest is going down again too, so my bras fit better and it’s easier to sleep. I feel like I’m slipping out of my terror body, the heavy one I race to when I feel under threat, so that also makes me feel like I must be feeling less threat. Drinking my green smoothie every morning is a little easier, although it’s less good than it was in Austin, when I had an abundance of frozen fresh peaches from HEB. They just aren’t available here, so it lacks that emerald shade of green and the slight tartness that the peaches added, but I’ll adjust to that.

But I persist. It is not easy yet. It’s still not easy. It’s still not quiet, and in fact it doesn’t feel ANY quieter, yet. But I believe it will come if I keep at it, and so I do.

Onward. xoxox

whoo boy is it hard

When people are starting to learn how to meditate, they very commonly say that they simply can’t do it, they aren’t able to keep their minds still. Sure, other people can do it, but their minds won’t sit still. Which of course is the whole point, the entire effort. I’d bet that no one can do it when they start. Even people who have been meditating for decades have those times when their minds won’t sit still, despite their deep experience.

But it’s really hard, and uncomfortable. There’s almost a kind of physical discomfort with it, and ironically the discomfort produces a kind of knee-jerk rush to get away from it, to distract yourself. To jump up from the mat. To turn on a podcast. To call someone. To open the refrigerator door. To hop in the car and just go somewhere, anywhere. To open a game on your phone or computer, to click on Netflix. Anything but this.

So at this point I’m not even trying to meditate, I’m just trying to bring mindfulness back into my life. That’s all. Just fully do whatever I’m doing, and do one thing at a time. That’s all. And it’s so hard. My monkey mind is like static electricity, flinging outward and crackling and grabbing onto anything nearby and pulling it close. My memory of the last time I rebooted my life with mindfulness is that it didn’t feel so hard, and in fact that was the glory of it; by being simply mindful, the other changes slipped into that stream pretty easily. Maybe I’m misremembering.

the view from my yoga mat

But yesterday I had an otherwise-good first day of returning to myself. It didn’t feel centering or comforting or restorative to my deep self, but it was still satisfying to end the day having done it. I started my day with a green smoothie — the easiest place to start. Almond milk, a banana, two handfuls of fresh spinach, a fresh peach, reliably delicious and restorative. It’s been a few weeks since I had a green smoothie, and it did what it always does for me: it energized me and made me feel semi-virtuous. 🙂 I did a half-hour yin yoga class designed specifically for post-travel, and BOY did that help my aching body. I ate a slice of cold watermelon, I drank lots of water, and I ate a healthy dinner, leftovers from the meal Marc made for me when I got home Monday night, tofu and fresh corn and black beans and chopped onion and bits of habanero, minus the rice he served it over on Monday. So I ate all living food, hydrated my poor tired body, and stretched my tight muscles. All done with a frantic monkey mind. Even during the yin yoga class, with those long, deep asanas, my mind was jumping and frantic.

my kitchen sink view

But I did it all. And maybe today my mind will cooperate a little more. Maybe today some of the silt will settle. Since I am motivated by data, I weighed myself yesterday so I’d have something to track, and while it was horrifying to see where I’m starting [again], it’s also helpful to me. What matters more is that my clothes fit and my body feels comfortable once again, as it did before the election, but having that bit of objective data helps me lean in when I’m feeling wavery in some way.

The quiet here is so marvelous, and most especially in the mornings. My grandchildren Oliver and Lucy have distinctly different wake-up styles; Oliver wants a long, slow wake-up, cuddling and coming to the day slowly, and Lucy wakes up ready! to! play! Katie says that perfectly describes their personalities, and I agree. I’m like Oliver; I like a long, quiet wake-up. I like to quietly make my coffee, and sit in silence with my own thoughts — or maybe not my thoughts! Maybe just inner quiet, looking at trees, listening to birds. Maybe reading some poetry. That’s how I like to wake up, and Heaventree makes it extra wonderful. (The mornings Marc is here, if he gets up first I don’t get any silence at all; he always reminds me of a little kid who has been impatiently waiting. When I get up he rushes to tell me all kinds of things. It’s worth getting up early just to have my silence . . . )

Giveaway from Hunter Hammersen, this gorgeous skein of String Theory Hand Dyed Yarn, sock weight, color called Tavikiki

Last night I wound a skein of yarn that I won in a giveaway, and watched the first season of Broadchurch. How is it that I didn’t know about this show? Thanks to Marnie for mentioning it, wow. It’s streaming on Netflix if you haven’t seen it and don’t get BBC. I think I’m going to find a stranded pattern (socks maybe? A hat?) that I can combine with a fabulous orange skein I have, and cast on tonight while I watch the second season. But first, my green smoothie, and a plan for today’s yoga class. Still water, y’all. One thing at a time. Peace.

Mindfulness project, day 2.

added bonuses

Moving into this house has been complicated by the fact that everything had to be unloaded into the basement, since the former owners were still living in the house. While it was a relief to be able to do that, instead of renting a storage unit (especially since they left three days later), it means that everything is in the basement. I want the empty boxes to be there instead of in the living space, and the boxes are kind of heavy (especially after the first couple), so this means that I go downstairs into the basement, collect a giant armload of stuff, walk up the basement stairs, and for all the bedroom and bathroom stuff, then also up the stairs to the second floor. It doesn’t take long to put away an armload of stuff, so a few minutes later I walk down two flights of stairs, and repeat.

This is obviously good for glutes and thigh muscles. And exhausting. Yesterday I think I made 7.3K trips, and boy did I sleep well last night. So there are two added bonuses to life at Heaventree, right off the bat. Lemonade!

Another added bonus is that it’s critical that I am mindful, here. It’s critical that I not just dash around with a distracted or unfocused mind, because I am here all alone, in a remote and rural place. I am alone in this house, and if I am out of the house, I couldn’t call for help. I am kind of a weirdo on stairs — worse going up them — because my foot plans to take one step at a time and my brain says, “No! Take them two at a time!” so my foot gets confused and strikes the riser between the stairs, and I stumble. The basement stairs are wooden steps, and I am afraid of heights so seeing between them, as I get nearer the top, always produces a kind of scared paralysis in me, also not good. This combo could obviously be bad news, especially if I were to fall into the cold basement . . . and especially if I didn’t have my phone on me.

It’s critical that I pay attention and be present, and how wonderful is that? I’ve gotten so far off my mindful track, ever since the dreadful election and the ensuing chaos and trauma of life under this nightmare administration, and what I’ve needed most was the ability to return to myself, to stay present, to be. And now I live in a place that both makes it a necessity, and provides me the most beautiful sanctuary (thank you for that word, Dixie, you’re so right) in which to do it. So when I am ‘forced’ to be present, what I see is beauty, what I feel is peace, what I hear is nature, what I feel is the quiet brilliance that surrounds me.

This doesn’t feel at all like making lemonade out of lemons — it feels like the biggest gift I ever could’ve received. Sometimes life is like that. Once in a while, more often than a blue moon but not so often that you take it for granted.

It’s Friday, which means that Marc will head to Heaventree after he sees his last patient for the day, and he’ll be here until we leave Tuesday morning for the airport. I have the kitchen fully unpacked now, so cooking will be less stressful for us both (“Honey, do you have X?” “I do honey, but it’s not unpacked yet.” [said for the millionth time] “Sweetie, where is the X?” “It’s not unpacked yet sweetheart.” [said for the millionth time]). He’s bringing a cooler full of food, stuff that’s more expensive to buy here than in NYC, and my little 3-day period of complete silence means I welcome his conversation with eager anticipation. Happy Friday y’all, I hope you are happy today. xoxox

two things: 1/12/17

1) The Wake Up Project is an Australian-centered mission to promote kindness and mindfulness. Five years ago I followed them but somehow I lost track — maybe in one of my occasional email subscription purges, which I regret. Click the link above for more information; I’ve signed up again. One of my dear, dear friends shared the most recent email from the founder, and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it here, and say why/more . . . but first, the email:

With all that’s happening in the world, I see 2017 as a profound call to personal leadership. More accurately, I’d call it an invitation to spiritual warriorship – to train and nourish our heart’s tremendous potential for kindness towards ourselves, each other and the earth.

To me, this means stepping up and honouring the ordinary magic of our daily lives. Learning how to protect our minds, listening for guidance and living from our hearts.

May I offer three areas to focus on this year:

Feed Your Mind Beautiful Things: Never has this been so important. Feed it truth. Feed it inspiration. AKA uplifting literature, wisdom, poetry, comedy, music, podcasts and good journalism. Surround yourself with people who nourish your mind and open you to new possibilities.

Adopt a Practice of Intentional Stillness: Set aside 5-15 minutes a day to relax and rest in the unchangeable part of you. The method doesn’t matter – sit, journal, pray, swim, stretch. It’s all about calming your mind, befriending yourself and listening to what life wants from you.

Once a Week, Pause and Ask Yourself “Who Can I Be Kind To Right Now?”: Really listen. It could be a friend, lover, family member, stranger – or it could be the same person each time. It doesn’t need to be big – e.g. send a text, make a phone call, leave a note. Or it could be big and risky. Step by step, kindness becomes your #1 spiritual practice. Set a weekly alert in your calendar to keep this practice alive.

Always remember….

“There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

So there it is. This is your year to Wake Up the best in you. To befriend yourself through unapologetic gentleness. To discover a profound rest in your human imperfections. To awaken the revolutionary (and essential) qualities of kindness, courage and creativity. This is spiritual warriorship.

OK! The reason this struck me the way it did is that like most of us, I’ve been just so scared of the incoming government, and a big part of that fear is that we’d all just get worn down and quit fighting. That the media will cave (as they have already done to a large extent), that the fighters will be loud at first but gradually they’ll (we’ll) subside because of exhaustion or because they’re systematically shut down, and that those of us with truly little power will find our powerlessness too hard to accept so we’ll start saying things like, “well, I’m just going to be kind/ paint/ write/ knit” and without diminishing those things AT ALL, they are too easily, I fear, a transition to acceptance of the situation. I’ve been scared of that, and I’ll just claim it for myself: I’ve been scared that will do that.

Te-Ata, Chickasaw

But this letter orients that effort in such a powerful way: spiritual WARRIORSHIP. My mother is descended from a Chickasaw woman named Ela-Teecha, so I am going to imagine myself a spiritual Chickasaw warrior. I found this beautiful photo of a Chickasaw woman named Te-Ata (Bearer of the Morning) and since I don’t have a photo of Ela-Teecha, I will instead hold her in my mind as my spiritual warrior image. (Wasn’t she so beautiful?) The Chickasaw belong to the Five Civilized Tribes, and were relocated, along with the Cherokee, on the Trail of Tears.

And so I will follow the guidance of the Wake Up Project and do the things I’d planned to do, but as spiritual warriorship. Somehow that feels different to me — and I will march and protest and write emails and make calls, too. And that is enough for one powerless person.

2) Speaking of Ela-Teecha, here’s what I know about her:

A friend did a quick exploration for me through Ancestry.com and uncovered so much information — often thrilling, sometimes painful (slave owners in Georgia) — and in the documents, she found this. I read it again and again, and adore “married into the great Choctaw family of Leflores.” The description of Ela-Teecha sounds exactly like my mother, exactly: straight black hair, very high cheek bones, and small black eyes … — medium size and slender build. That description can of course look a lot of different ways, and she undoubtedly looked nothing like my mother, but my mother fit the description too and that’s a bit eerie.

Ela-Teecha, my ancestorOH!! I found her! After she married Smith Paul she went by the Anglicized name Ellen. She lived from 1797 to 1871, and if I joined Ancestry, I could also see her grave, and probably find out exactly where she is buried. Wow. For a rootless person like me, that feels utterly amazing. I was able to snag her tree without joining:

I love that one of her sons was named Tecumseh, and another Mississippi. I’m unsure which of her children led to me, but I think that must be knowable. My father’s paternal line is a series of abrupt, violent stops, but that’s not my whole story. I know my father’s mother descended from a line of Alabama Coushatta, so on both sides I am descended from native people and their toughness and resilience live through me.

This is not really of interest to anyone but me, but I’m glad to stash this here for later finding.

Find your own model, if that will help, or maybe you don’t need one, maybe you are ready and able to fight your own way, just out of your own core. #resistance

better than ever

See the twinkle? This is at Millay's home, and he was tickled pink to be there.
See the twinkle in his eye? This is at Millay’s home, and he was tickled pink to be there.

I have a great friend in my monthly poetry group named George. First of all, George is the most knowledgeable person about poetry I have ever met. Ever. And he can recite huge swaths at the drop of a hat. He’s older than me, I don’t know his age, but man I enjoy his ability to do that kind of recitation. Last year he took a road trip vacation to Steepletop, Edna St Vincent Millay’s home in Maine. That’s what he did for his vacation. So George is definitely 100% my kind of guy. And his eyes twinkle and he’s very funny in a sly way that you might miss if you aren’t paying attention. (And he does yoga! There doesn’t seem to be much of anything you might randomly mention that George doesn’t do.)

Every month when I see him and ask how he’s doing, he answers, “Better than ever!” I hadn’t noticed the pattern; last month in my delight at his answer, I commented on it and he said it’s always his answer, and it puzzles people. Once a grocery store clerk said, “I wish could say that,” so George told her to stop what she was doing, immediately, and look at him. Then he said, “OK, repeat after me. Better.” “Better.” “Than.” “Than.” “Ever.” “Ever.” With his characteristic twinkly smile, he then said, “Now you know how to say it!” He said that it’s an important way he helps himself feel good, and when he gives into the various troubles of aging, and dwells on them, he does not feel very good at all and starts going downhill. So “better than ever!” is not just a verbal trick, a magic mantra, it’s a way of orienting himself to this day of his life. His shoulder might ache, but hey — today he is better than ever.

That aspect of George resonates with me, although I don’t say that phrase. What I do say, though, is “wonderful.” Oh, this is wonderful, that’s wonderful, you are wonderful, the day is wonderful, my sandwich is wonderful, that ice water is wonderful, YogaGlo is wonderful, my friends are wonderful (or gorgeous, or beautiful, or amazing, or magnificent). A lifetime ago, when I was getting to know the members of the very large family I married into — and before I realized that ‘wonderful’ is my most characteristic word — I was talking to one of my husband’s brothers, and after a while he leaned down, frowned a little bit, and said, “Really, Lori? Is it wonderful? Is everything wonderful? ‘It’s just wunnerful!’” And then he cackled. I still am not entirely sure if he was making fun of me, but I think he was.

This occurred to me as I was re-reading my last post about my. . .well, ok, I’ll say it. . .wonderful week. (But it was!) I saw what any editor would identify as the gross overuse of those words. Gross overuse. Anyone can see that, come on, it’s egregious. For heaven’s sake. Bad writing, leaning hard toward purple.

But here’s the deal, and I just mean this from the bottom of my heart. My friends truly are beautiful, and brilliant, and amazing, and wonderful, and gorgeous. My daughters truly are all those things, and magnificent, and loving. The sky really is wonderful. The things I mentioned really were extraordinary. I think I share the impulse with George, and I think it is probably why we are happy people. I don’t know if George has always been this way, but I have always been this way. My former brother-in-law commented on that when I was 21 years old and I’m still unconsciously at it.

So maybe it’s not your automatic way of being in the world, and maybe you 100% love the way you are in the world and so good on ya! Maybe you enjoy a bit of a grump (my husband in NY has a daily need to mope) now and then, and that’s just fine. I do too. But I think that if you just pause for a second and notice that sky, you’d see that it’s wonderful. There it is, just doing its thing, putting on a dramatic, ever-changing show for you, and you’re probably not noticing it. And then I think you’ll feel a little spike of happy. I think if you paused for a minute and really tasted your food and thought about it — wow (oops, another of my oft-used words, wow), that salad is really wonderful, so fresh and crunchy, and the pepitas just make it all work, and blue cheese ohmygod, it’s really wonderful — another little spike of happy. Really see your friend when you’re talking to her, just really see her and you’ll see that she is super wonderful. Magnificent. There she is, being herself in your life. Wow.

Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.
Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.

But really — just pause for a second. LOOK AT THAT SKY! Is it not wonderful? (Also: George is wonderful, and so are you.) Right on.

going rogue

With gratitude to my friend (and former health coach) Jeff for that phrase in the post title, I too am going rogue with my meditation and mindfulness practice. Last night I went to Shambhala to listen to a public talk on the “Culture of Awake.” (“As more and more people introduce principles and disciplines of wakefulness into their lives, such as mindfulness or yoga, we are together cultivating a culture of awake. In this talk, we will explore some of the basic principles of this culture that can give deeper meaning to how we live our lives and help transform our world into a better place.”) I’ve been feeling heavy and blue, and hoped that listening to the talk would lift my spirits in some way.

Of course that’s an unfair expectation of a talk — it’s not the speaker’s job to do that for me. He was a perfectly lovely smiley man who waved his hands in circles the whole evening, and he did do this one exercise that I found meaningful, and I’ll come back to it at the end.

mindfulnessBut he opened by saying that the whole world is becoming awake, isn’t it wonderful. And he had this blissful smile on his face. He reminded us that mindfulness made the cover of Time Magazine, and you can’t be more mainstream than that! And I felt thrown out of the room by his opening premise. No it isn’t! The world is not becoming awake! Just before I left for the talk I watched news of ISIS destroying ancient art, and a report on the discovery of the identity of Jihadi John, the Brit responsible for beheading so many people.

We’re freezing and the global climate is transforming dangerously and too many Americans (and others) laugh and mock and say “then how is this ‘global warming'” with idiotic gaping grins betraying their stupidity. Morons are in charge of important subcommittees. The world looks pretty dangerous and stupid and threatening to me, and I am in pretty deep despair about the cruelty of the Republicans in charge. (The Democrats have their own problems, including naivete and being bought and all kinds of things, but they don’t tend toward the same breathtaking cruelty.)

The world does not seem like it’s waking up to me. However much the affluent white people sitting on cushions in gold-painted rooms might say it is, it just isn’t.

What is the point and purpose of meditation and mindfulness? Is it to become smug in your own practice? Is it to delude yourself into thinking this is how the world is? Surely not; that seems the very opposite of the point, at least as I understand it. Isn’t the point of it to see more clearly what is?? To get rid of the story as much as possible — and this seems as dangerous a story as any other. This is like any other delusion, surely, even if it’s dharma-ed by a dude on a cushion in front of an altar.

And so I do the exercise he taught, which he called “Finding Home:”

  1. Feel my weight
  2. Move the center of gravity from my head down to my heart. Feel my embodiment.
  3. Open my awareness out to the world — from which I’ve never really been separate.

And from that position, I try to encounter the world as it is, not as I really wish it were. I continue my own meditation practice alone, I remain mindful as much as I can, I find value for myself in these things, and I think I let the rest go, the institutional parts. I seek the lightness and kindness and compassion that meditation and mindfulness can bring, but I will do that on my own.

And sheesh.

ecstasy, then laundry

laundryThe post title is a straight-on reference to the title of a book by Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  I was thinking about this yesterday when I woke up, actually, and then as my challenging day unfolded it came front and center. I’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve been staying up too late the last several nights for a variety of reasons, and then sleeping a bit late each morning. It’s not my best rhythm, and when it’s combined with the incessantly gloomy skies we’ve had, it’s not my best head, either. So I woke up late and as I lay in bed doing my morning ritual, reflecting on what I wanted from the day ahead, I felt so flat, so uninspired. Even less than that. So I was thinking about this as a natural part of life: the exciting newness of a change is gone now, and the days are still the same kind of days. Of course. That’s one great thing about change at the beginning — at least the kind of change you seek out on purpose — it revitalizes you and disrupts the ordinariness. For a while, until it also becomes ordinary.

And while I am so very far from enlightenment, I do sit at the foothills of the trail that leads to the path that eventually takes you to the highway that ends up, eventually, at that bodhi tree. At least I have some new skills to help me deal with things. That’s enough.

So I finished my morning ritual, went into the kitchen to make my coffee — another very pleasurable ritual, that — and then turned on my computer, only to find that I had been pretty seriously hacked by someone in Germany. My browser was changed to google.de, and I had been locked out of all my email accounts. While I was in the midst of dealing with all that, which brought its own traumatic memories of our being hacked so horribly in NYC, a friend called with a personal crisis that was just close enough to one I’d had in my life that it rattled my bones. Like a 10 on the Richter scale level of rattling. When I hung up the phone with her, my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop pacing in circles. Marc called and I talked to him and broke down crying, remembering my own situation from 2005.

When we hung up, I knew what I needed to do. I changed into my yoga clothes and hit the mat for a vinyasa flow class. I needed to find my way back to the present, back to now, and back to my own body and breath. At the beginning of class my mind wouldn’t stay with me, despite the fact that the class moved quickly and demanded a lot of me, required me to think carefully about positioning my body and breathing. By the end of the hour, as we moved into savasana, I still wasn’t there all the way. I lay there and my old experience was in me so deeply that tears ran down both sides of my face, just missing my ears, in a steady stream. I tried to relax into the earth and just be, and my mind was not still. Then the teacher told a story I’d never heard, about the origin of the pose:

shivashaktiWhen Shiva first saw Shakti, he was so completely struck by her beauty that he fell backwards and lost all desire for anything but that moment. She walked towards him and danced on his stomach, and he had no awareness beyond the moment.

I can’t find that story online anywhere, but it’s so lovely, and it helped me in my roiling moment. I felt Shakti dancing on my own stomach, I felt the ground under my shoulders, and head, and bottom, legs, feet, hands. I felt my breath raising and lowering my chest, and my face and jaw relaxed. It was better.

But it wasn’t behind me all the way, and my shower didn’t move it, breathing didn’t relax it, just feeling the feelings didn’t relieve me into the present moment, a pizza and craft beer at my favorite place in Austin didn’t wash it away. I came home, did the laundry, opened my computer, worked, and lived another day of my life.

022515And that’s what it is. Life is sometimes like that. Inner experiences can whammy you, sucker punch you, just when you least expect them. Spiritual efforts like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, (pizza and beer…..consumed mindfully!) don’t magically wipe everything away. They aren’t magic wands, they don’t eliminate difficulty. But they do help, and they do give me a way to approach difficulty so that I might get something from it instead of just being tormented by it — a seed of wisdom, a connection to the suffering of others, a deeper awareness of my own experience, a more peaceful body. An ability to hold it and know I can hold it, and still engage the world with openness and kindness.

And that’s pretty good.