Body and Sole

I was sore from exercises, the kind of exercises one might do if they learned they might be dancing in public, often, and for money. They weren’t exercises born from any type of mania, low self-esteem or from a history or struggling with my weight. I just decided I need to step up my fitness game for the summer, if I plan on being in any hula shows, and I do.

I’d been working out for two days and my back hurt. Muscles that are already normally achy from the mundane work that I do, sometimes aching from just how mundane that work can be, felt like they’d been schlacked in a thick coating of quickly drying cement. It’s about seven thirty in the evening, a perfectly respectable hour for me, but most respectable massage shops are closed by then. But not the Asian massage store in the mall. They are open until nine at night, just when I need someone to break this concrete off my back.

Whilst parking my car in the well lit parking lot of our illustrious Cordova Mall, I recall an incident in which I was in no little trouble with my family. It was a similar story, I’d made myself sore with exercise and landed myself in one of these Asian massage places on Davis Highway, you know the busy four and six lane thoroughfare laced with fast food chains, homeless people and a Firestone. There’s also a Cheddar’s and a massage place.

I step into the dimly lit lobby off Davis Highway. A woman greets me in broken English and tells me her name is Suzy. It felt like Suzy and I were the only two people in the building, from the hollow only two people in the building vibe the walls were giving off. I followed her into a pinkly lit honeycomb peppered with curtained doors. She stops in front of one such curtain and shows me in. She removes a small bouquet of plastic flowers from the massage table and tells me to undress, she’ll be right back.

Bare from the waist up like an Egyptian priestess – because I don’t want her wasting any of the precious 30 minutes I’ve requested on my legs and feet, which do not hurt the way my back does.

I’d put the tiny little sheet, just larger than a Kleenex, across the expanse of my back, which Suzy snatches right off me anyway. She proceeds to beat the hell out of me for about ten minutes. Between the brain scorching agony of her sharp elbows digging between ribs and excavating lost cities from beneath my shoulder blades, there are moments in which I feel the renewed flow of blood to my extremities and think she might be performing a miracle.

A ringing bell summons Suzy to the lobby. She does not close the curtain behind her, so there I am, smoldering on the table like a burned city, listening to her greet someone in hushed and broken words. When she returns, she only half closes the curtain, so I see the residue of those pink light bulbs on the walls in the hallway. I feel agitation translate through her hands into my muscles. There is a new quality to her work, summarized by the sentiment one might think when it is time to get this show on the road. But that’s the problem with working on services for a specified amount of time; no matter how fast you work, you still can’t rush. I was simultaneously uncomfortable and ready to leave and unable to move, barring a fire alarm.

Upon relating this tale to my family, I was met with no little horror. They were certain I could have been human trafficked, and that I’d narrowly escaped some horrible fate. I told them in no uncertain terms that I’m too old for them to want and that, if anything, I lent a legitimacy to their business unbeknownst to me at the time. I did concede, once properly dosed with the toxic level of guilt every family knows how to portion, that I would never return.

Now, here I am, walking into the mall for the same purpose, perhaps safer simply because it is in the mall. I manage pass a going out of business sale at Pay Less Shoes, a true litmus of my willpower and a testament to my level of discomfort. Passing by, I recall the white, low heeled shoes I wore to fifth grade graduation, and wonder if somewhere in their stock the same pumps might be found.

The massage shop is right in the center of the corridor. Two people stand in the doorway, both wearing red collared shirts. They stand casually until they see me, then they’re like carnival barkers someone activated by a hidden button. I lock eyes with the woman, who smiles at me from beneath her straight, sleek bob. She reaches out with both hands, as though we are kids on the playground who want to spin each other around. She tells me her name is Leena.

I tell her twenty minutes, point to my upper back. She puts me face down and fully clothed on the first table in a row of about ten massage tables in this large, square room. It is dimly lit compared to the bustling mall. I hear noise from people; a loud whoop from a post-pubescent Navy recruit, a child crying, a pack of women chatting. Leena begins to pinch and knead my shoulders, drops elbows between vertebra, runs her hands like electrical currents from my shoulders to my heels. I have not shaved my legs in two weeks and am glad I’m wearing long pants.

While she frames the middle of my spine with her hands and rocks me side to side, I feel a presence at my feet. The man, who was standing with her in the doorway, wants to to rub my feet for an additional fee.

“No, thank you. Just my back.” I feel him retreat, perhaps grateful I declined. He’d touched my ankles, no less furry than a well groomed Clydesdale. That’s what he gets.

In his retreat, he asks Leena something in Chinese, which she puts to me in English, “Do you want man or woman massage you?”

The audacity of that fool! Trying to swipe her client right out from under her hard working hands! I say, in no uncertain terms, “You’re perfect.” When she relates my response in Chinese to her co-worker, I detect a melodic glee akin to Nanny Nanny Boo Boo. He remains close, talking to her from a stool behind the register.

I feel lulled by the conversational tone of a language so foreign to me, with its soft shh sounds at the end of long words and the way consonants begin or end with a resonant jin sound or end with a pitched inflection and ing like little bells ringing. Leena sits on the table by me and and braces my armpit against her hip as she drapes my arm across her lap, so she may renew blood flow to the muscles barely holding my shoulder blades in place. I decide she might be a visiting Goddess and tip her accordingly.

Dribble pools on the side of my low lip and I manage to refrain from drooling on the floor. I adjust the single paper towel, the only thing between the corners of my mouth and the face cradle, knowing full well it’s the only thing between my own mucus membranes and the countless members of the public that Leena and her co-workers have massaged. To tell you that even this was like a distant concern born from the mythology of pathogens should tell you how desperately I needed a massage.

I didn’t need an Advil to go to bed that night. And I’m probably going back tomorrow.

 

 

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Screen Time

I sleep with my phone on airplane mode. Upon waking and coffee, the day’s ritual includes returning the phone to its open receptivity. Upon changing the setting, I feel myself lean back, as though to avoid the expelled pressure of withheld communications; the pings of incoming text messages bang around the quiet room like rapidly fired tennis balls shot from a machine.

I work in a restaurant where a family of five will spend a hundred dollars on dinner and never look up from their phones. One man sits upright and friendly, gazing at his salad like he a lost a bet, while the woman across from him shops for out of print tennis shoes on the black market. In the drink lane, from whence non-alcoholic drinks come, servers retrieve their phones from the front pocket of an apron with the same alacrity a toddler scoops a pacifier into its mouth from the dirty floor; scroll Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Pinterest.

I didn’t want a smart phone. I kept a flip phone not for economy but so I might spend my time well. I resolved when I got the sleek new device that I’d manage myself, would not become one of those sad saps eating dinner with a hundred people on Twitter while leaving my dining companion alone. I resolved not to text at red lights, no way in hell I’d take pictures of clouds. I wouldn’t consider launching a blog post from such a small screen – how would I ever edit properly? I would take no selfies, never indulge hashtags.

Dear Reader, with the exception of posting a blog from my phone, I’ve done all of that. I scroll articles about time management and motivation, shop for books about feminine spirituality and contemplative prayer, I post listings on Etsy and peruse the newest independently published tarot deck I might add to my collection. I use the Insight Meditation timer to keep me honest, so I actually sit in meditation for as long as I intend. I look up gemstone meanings and try to decide if I need that smoky quartz pendulum. I look at other Etsy shops that specialize in malas and compare my prayer beads to theirs. I wonder if there is a place for me in this online world where everyone writes and sells their specialty until there is nothing special except one thing – and that one thing has nothing to do with online.

I have thought about establishing business hours. I keep odd hours, proof of which is in the time stamp on this post, but that’s no reason not to let my students and clients know when they can expect to hear back from me. How about Tuesday through Saturday 2 pm – Midnight? That’s reasonable.

Beneath this inquiry into business hours, I learned that I feel queasy at the thought of not responding quickly to inquiries for fear of seeming negligent in business or callous in temperament. I don’t want to come across as some half assed, un-grounded yoga teacher (I seem to recall a very reasonable yoga teacher once telling me, “Yoga practice should make you feel very grounded.”) So when the volley of pings fly out of the phone, the cats and I respond to texts and emails as they come in. This, of course, leads to oversights, as my mental acuity is not its best before early afternoon.

I find myself feeling resentment and constriction around the very device which is meant to serve my business and, by extension, my clients. I am grateful for the work I get to do, whether it’s designing a unique mala inspired by a client’s spiritual practice or arranging a time to trim an out of town friend’s hair. I have noticed my inability to set boundaries around screen time has made it harder for me to appreciate and be present for the people it helps me serve.

The marvel of our twenty-four seven connectivity is that more and more of us feel severely disconnected. I know I do. It is also a time trap, creating a gulf between my aspirations and the ability to act on my hopes and dreams while scrolling a stream of motivational images on Instagram – learn it, live it, be it. Whilst falling down the spiral I swore I would not go, I thought I could resist the psychological effects of using social media to promote my offerings and wares, but it is impossible.

In a world where high tech and HD are the icons of modern culture, I long to let the edges of my world blur like the moon in a misty sky. Where the hashtag vibehigher, elevate, rise are prominent among spiritual entrepreneurs, it feels like a striking contrast against the primal urge to send down roots and become still, to take my seat on the Earth and connect with the energy that swirls deep in my spine. How can I ever #elevate if I don’t have anything to hold onto?

The idea of turning off my device creates an uneasy feeling, like what comes when turning one’s back on an addiction. The phone in my hand, the scrolling screen that trains my eyes and mind to read flashing images and respond to advertisements, is a device meant to improve our day to day; enhancing our ability to schedule, communicate, take pictures, and plan. But how easy is life if I can’t live it, because I’m too distracted by the device in my hand?

Interestingly, my Teacher is now on Instagram. She is using it to share teachings, post little practices and share insights. I love and cherish this because as a long distance student, it is a new means of connection I dearly appreciate. She talked about it a little bit in class and said that anything can be used with Consciousness, which helped me see how unconscious I’ve been around screen time, media use and online shennanigans in general.

Because Consciousness is the name of the game and I want to practice what I teach and study, I’m going to establish a day in which my phone goes on DoNotDisturb mode (this allows a list of contacts to still ring through) and I put a 24 hour restriction on my apps. I’ll use a kitchen timer to meditate. A notebook and pen for chapter rewrites (these will probably be the best chapters), for music I’ll listen to the radio.

When I return my phone to its open receptivity, it will be with the intention to attend to each incoming message and inquiry with the same level of presence I hope to offer folks standing right in front of me. When I post on social media, I aspire to come from a grounded place, so what I share might be helpful and, though I am loathe to use the phrase, Authentic.

To do that, I’ve gotta disconnect first. I invite you all to join me in this little experiment. I would love to know how it goes for you.

 

The Azalea Sutra

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The sun came out for a little while on Thursday, just long enough for me to think about going for a walk. By the time I cross the street to walk by the privacy fence with the forever barking dog behind it, the sky was cloudy again and a brisk wind reminded me it is still only early Spring.

My mood is elevated by the hints and touches of Spring peeking out at me. A pink magnolia tree, with petals strewn around its base like the red carpet at a wedding, sparks little shoots of green from its branches. The moss clinging to magnificent oaks is freshly saturated by the recent fog and is thoroughly audacious in its greenery. My sycamore out front is still bare, but tall and winding skyward. The camellias are still going strong, if not a little heavy on the trees, like they grow weary of all the wet weather and wish for sunlight to dry their faces. And then there’s the damn azaleas, pink and white in turn.

For every rose bush, oak tree, hibiscus –  the sago palms and gardenia bushes, there seems to be a hundred azalea bushes. I’m walking along with this light springy feeling in my chest, something like one might feel at the sudden arrival of a pastry stuffed with a light cream, and I wonder why those god awful azaleas are making me feel so happy.

It’s the pink azaleas that draw my eye the most; they’re a shade between bubblegum pink and the fuchsia that was so popular in the eighties, just a tone darker than what Sheena Easton used as her choice color of blush. The blooms congregate on these massive bushes, their green showcases the passionate blooms like the black night illuminates the stars. The white azaleas remind me of swans swimming among gentle waves of leaves, little handkerchiefs adrift of the hands of nature.

Whilst I power walk in my neighborhood, I take a stroll down memory lane. I remember the Azalea Trail painted in a pink stripe down both sides of the street where I lived in Mobile. To be honest, I have no idea what the purpose of the Azalea Trail is, other than to designate the rout that the Azalea Trail Maids must follow in their parade through Mobile. I’m not sure what their purpose is, either, but I bet it’s some kind of southern society I want no part of, especially the part where you have to wear a dress that looks suspiciously like those damnable Azalea flowers.

NationalAppearances

I remember finding leaves that got painted in the Pepto Bismol pink that missed the hue of anything natural by a few shades. Sheena Easton’s cheeks looked more natural in 1981. These leaves intrigued me, by either their misfortune or good luck, I’m not sure. I also scratched out rocks from the street’s pavement that were painted the same shade by a truck that drives for the city, painting streets, while all around my house the azaleas blazed.

Azaleas are synonymous with this time of year. The end of that interminable Mardi Gras and the start of Lent, for you heathens who don’t know what that is, don’t worry, neither do I. The distinct feeling of the the wind’s touch in the month of March whispers optimism, renewal and a touch of delirium from vitamin D deficiency. There is a promise at this time of year that is more Earthy than some far off mystical experience or promise of salvation or enlightenment. It’s the promise of life, to be exhilarated and frustrated with daily existence, to be disenchanted by feelings of monotony while holding in heart and mind the ability to enact the drama of your wildest dreams and most creative aspirations. We are reminded of the simplicity and audacity of life when flowers bloom, kittens open their eyes, the sky changes from sunny to overcast, a sudden thunderstorm appears overhead, sunlight breaks through the clouds. In an instant things can change, a small green sprout will surprise a branch with its happiness.

I love the Spring almost as much as I love the Fall, but I’ve hated azaleas for as long as I can remember. I round a corner in my neighborhood and must contend with seeing a massive wall of azaleas, white and pink and green. They are taller than I am, and I notice this sensation of happiness in my body, like bubbles or butterflies dancing. What the hell am I doing with this happiness while there are azalea bushes vexing me with their presence?

A green shoot of awareness juts from this barren branch of habituated loathing and I recall that for as long as I can remember, my mother has hated azaleas. Every single Spring she would disdain the blossoms unfurling their petals in abundance all over the damn place (admittedly, I use significantly more profanity than my mother ever has, expletives are my own). With that whole mysterious Azalea Trail business afoot in the Spring, there were plenty of azaleas to hate. She was reminded of her dislike around every corner, and she reiterated it often. Ironically, my mother loves every other flower. She can recognize different varieties of the rose, can root anything that has been alive within a decade; she adores the scent of magnolia, cuts plumes of ginger blossoms for me to put on my altar, violets stay alive in her possession. She once resurrected an aloe plant that died immediately from being given to me as a Christmas gift.

I am startled to discover I don’t hate azaleas at all. I think I might even be fond of them, if I’m to listen to the sensations I feel rather than the impressions I’ve adopted. When I see these bushes I think of being a kid in Alabama going to see my great-grandmother on Easter. I remember Spring breaks, cosmetology school, all the miles I ran in all the neighborhoods in which I lived. I think of this neighborhood where I live now and feel grateful.

This accidental little experiment made me wonder what in the hell other inherited opinions I carry I’m not yet aware of. As I make deeper inquiries of myself, my power walk slows to a pace more conducive to contemplation. After another block or so, I am heartened, because being able to discern the mental impressions and entrenched nature of thoughts is one of the purposes of yoga (and by yoga I mean meditation, not handstand in a bikini).

The mind can be such a tyrant. It knows who is right and what is wrong. Azaleas are bad, hibiscus are good! As someone who practices meditation with some level of regularity, sometimes the best I can hope for during a practice is for the grip of my mind’s opinions and judgement to loosen up, admit to being wrong, or sometimes harder still – admit to just not being right.

This moment feels like a little, but important, wedge between my incessantly thinking mind with all of its preferences and determinations and the mind that is a tool for care and creativity. I recently increased my daily meditation time, not by much and that whole “daily” part yet remains to be seen, but this insight came at such an opportune moment, bolstered by the bird song and other cliches of Spring. This stuff works, and I might add even more time to my sitting meditation practice to find out exactly how well. It might even become daily.

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Food = Happy and Why I Want You to Sponsor Me in the Kashi Atlanta Yogathon

I just ate some noodles. If we have interacted for more than five minutes, this shouldn’t surprise you, noodles are my favorite food group. Noodles = Happy.

In a way, Food = Happy, doesn’t it? When my sister and I go out to eat we can’t wiggle into the booth at Mellow Mushroom fast enough. Of course, that’s for pizza, so perhaps Carbs = Happy. We love to eat.

Conversely, when I’m hungry I get this sorrowful feeling I usually inflict on those around me. You know, the grumpy and tense mental landscape we’ve all experienced when we waited too long to eat. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where you’ll probably get so distracted you’ll forget lunch. Those Snicker’s commercials didn’t come out of nowhere, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” But what if you hadn’t eaten because you forgot, but because you didn’t have any food or anyplace to cook it?

When I was in Atlanta over the summer, seeing Swami, standing in front of a life size bust of Sekhmet, Egypt’s golden Lioness whose breath created the desert, sleeping in an ashram and eating delicious food at Yeah! Burger – I also had the opportunity to participate in the Street Meals program. Every Tuesday evening volunteers go to Kashi Atlanta and prepare food and every Wednesday volunteers deliver and serve the food at a homeless shelter.

When I arrive with the other volunteers on Wednesday I feel comfortable because I serve food for a living. I deliver countless plates of twenty dollar spaghetti, high-end meat balls, extra-terrestrial sausage and, ironically, all the free salad you could ever want. At the shelter, my first job was to put napkins and plastic forks on the tables while people come in. It is a large space with circular tables arranged for maximum occupancy. Women and men came in almost as eager to put down the burden of their packs and cargo with which they walk the streets as they were to eat. Everyone was friendly and glad to be inside; it was a hot Georgia day and the sun was relentless. Inside the shelter, they have cups of cool water and air-conditioning.

Everyone was seated before we started serving the food. I’d been waiting on that moment my whole life, trained like a samurai in the art of food service, my skillz honed to a razor sharp edge; I knew they’d need a water re-fill without even looking in the cup, I balanced three plates of pasta salad like a Zen koan poised at the pinnacle of my perfectly still mind, its solution as reasonable as the lady who asked for more bread so she could take some with her for later. She had pencil thin legs sticking out of frayed denim shorts and plugged into dirty white high-top tennis shoes. She looped the plastic bag containing the bread through a belt loop so the baguettes knocked against her leg like a gun holster when she walked.

There is one man who stands out in my mind, the friendliest face of the day. He came in late, his duffel on the chair beside him at the empty table in the back, near the water cooler. We were already offering seconds and chocolates to the children who were there with their mother, seated at the front in a row of chairs near the window.

He has black hair that stands up from his head like long, thick sprouts of grass. He is about my size with an ambling gate that makes me think he likes to dance or he studies kung fu. He has on a drab green collared shirt and loose fitting khaki pants with boots that are scuffed and worn. His shirt is tucked neatly into his wrinkled khakis. His face is round with high cheek bones like my friend from the Philippines. I hand him his plate and his smile turns his eyes into deep creases, so that they look like window blinds closed to the bright afternoon sun, only dark glimmering joy revealed through his sparse eyelashes.

Because I’m a good waitress, I ask him if he is alright. He looks up at me and curls his lips to speak in broken English, “I was hungry!” His smile adheres to his face while he chews. The exclamation is one of pure relief. Absent from his demeanor was any bitterness, sadness, or  shame. He was just so happy, and it was a happiness that was contagious.

I wondered about him after I left. I still see him so clearly in my mind. I wondered how he ended up there, what kind of work he might have done, what his dreams are. I wonder about him when it rains and I remember him when I wait too long to eat and then feel the elation of a delicious bowl of pasta or a veggie burger from Red Robbin.

Before I went to Street Meals, I wanted you to sponsor me in the Yoga-Thon Fundraisers because I love Kashi Atlanta and believe in the work they do. Kashi just had its twenty year anniversary, and in that time they have  fed countless homeless people and created who knows how many kids’ art projects in hospitals. Kashi Atlanta is my spiritual home and where I go to see my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. It is where I go for yoga training and to refill my emotional well. But now this fundraising feels personal and more imperative because I got to experience the benefit of it through that man’s eyes.

The money you donate buys food the volunteers prepare on Tuesday. It’s the bread that that woman takes with her when she goes back to her home on the street, and it’s the pasta salad that made that man so happy. We were able to offer second plates of food and pieces of chocolate to children because of the donations Kashi receives. This is the time of year most of the money that sustains the service programs comes in. As a yoga and meditation teacher who studies at Kashi Atlanta, this is an opportunity for you to show through your support that you benefit from my continued studies and training with my Teacher.

If we are fortunate enough to have everything we need, then it’s our gift to share what we have. Please follow this link to donate. Your gift is 100% tax deductible and you will receive a letter from Kashi Atalanta for your tax records. Thank you, thank you, thank you. https://kashiatlanta.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/KashiAtlanta2018Yogathon/Fundraising/tabid/1000163/Default.aspx?joinme=173207

 

 

Does This Bindi Dot Make My Head Look Big?

I’ve been meaning to address a topic that might get me banned from the internet, and I’m not sure that’s an entirely bad thing. I am a white woman who has worn a bindi dot on more than one occasion, which is a gemstone or jewel-like adornment affixed to my third eye, typically with some type of adhesive or by some magical powers developed by virtue of intense meditation practices. My bindi dot came from the scrap book  section at Michael’s and stays in place because it has an adhesive back like my Scooby-Doo stickers. I began wearing them when I started belly dance classes last year.

I looked up the meaning of the bindi dot and learned that they often indicate the woman wearing it is married within the context of Hindu and Jain culture. It might also have something to do with the magic of the third eye chakra, commitment of some sort (aside from the millieu of marriage) and a willingness to reflect the light of a thousand suns into the hearts of all those you meet. It also wards off bad luck. I’m sure there is more than one well intentioned Ally scoffing at my flagrant cultural appropriation; and I haven’t even started talking about belly dance classes yet. I began studying oriental dance about a year and a half ago because, in addition to my interest in the Orient regarding spirituality, I wanted to learn a form of dance that does not require a partner to practice or enjoy. That put swing dancing and ballroom squarely out of question.

Bollywood, which is India’s flavor, is too bouncy for my taste. Turkish style feels aggressive and the Iranian dance style, though graceful, is too demure for me. I fell in love with Egyptian style dance. I know these styles because my teacher instructs us not only in the methods of dance but in the variations in styles across the Middle East so we’re not an ignorant bunch of coin belted hussies but a respectable group of well trained dancing girls. My favorite form of Oriental dance is the shimmie intense Egyptian style. When I wear my cat ears and finger cymbals I feel like a priestess of Bastet, resonating with the lifelong summons I’ve felt towards Egypt.

Dear Reader, in case we have not met in real life and you’re not sure of my cultural background, I am not Egyptian or of Middle Eastern descent at all. I’m white, born in the south with a native culture about as interesting as a bar-b-cue down at the Baptist community center. That’s essentially where I come from, with some Catholic pepper flakes and one generation removed from upper class suburbia – on my mother’s side – for good measure. I grew up lower-ish with middle class tendencies. We didn’t go to church but my great-aunt liked to use her answering machine to remind callers, “Jesus loves you” even though in her own dealings she didn’t choose to utilize the same emotional generosity. The people I come from do not wear bindi dots and they do not shimmie, though I’ve heard my mom was hell down at the disco in 1978, but her people were Methodist.

I study and teach yoga. I remember when I taught at the yoga center in Pensacola there was a woman from India who came to my class. She intimidated me. I wondered who in the hell I thought I was, trying to teach this fifty something year old lady from Kathmandu how to chant the Gayatri mantra.

In a way, this lady had an answer to some of this unworthiness I held around teaching. One day after class we were chatting and she explained to me that they do not teach or study yoga as openly or as freely as we do here (in the United States). Not as many people are exposed to it so there aren’t so many teachers. Most families have their own deity and method of worship and so few people extend beyond what they know from having grown up with it. In a way, she reminded me that I was empowered to teach this stuff because I studied it. Not because I grew up with it, not because I went and stole it, but because I love it and believe it in.

What, on the outside, looks like another white girl with a yoga mat is really a devotee. I’m not a devotee of the God of my father. I had to reach beyond what I knew, because I knew there was more to life than the limited spirituality I grew up with.

There is a lot on social media about cultural appropriation, mostly by well-meaning white folks who want to do better and in so wishing to improve their relationships with the global community from the inside out have made walking the thin line of ownership of inherent racism and rampant cultural appropriation their hobby.

When we snatch something from another culture because it’s cool and, therefore, makes us look cool – like a Native American headdress at Burning Man, then we might need to look at our fashion decisions and deeper motivations in life.

Where I think we need to be careful, whilst making white people walk that line, is the chance to overcompensate in our willingness to apologize for racism, for bloodshed and psychological damage wrought by insensitivity, brutality and ransacking of cultures for its sparkly spoils. Because there has been misuse and under-appreciation of so many people, I have noticed within myself the urge to stay in my own corner. I don’t want to do anything (else) wrong. I feel like if I say anything, it is wrong. I don’t want to offer excuses and I certainly don’t want to fan the embers of white fragility – which is a term I understand to mean an unwillingness to recognize participation, whether active or overt, in the objectification of others and a need to be reassured when faced with its reality.

Well meaning souls are typically sensitive souls, who wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad, taken for granted or taken advantage of. Our world is diverse. We need healing desperately. The dialogue around cultural appropriation feels achingly divisive, so much so that if one is a white person then the only thing they can say is “I’m sorry”.

As of this writing, #culturalappropriation is 120,560 (120,645 twenty-four hours later) posts strong on Instagram. The topics range from blatant racism, female objectification, Native American headdresses as a Halloween costume, yogis in bikinis, men whining about the unfairness of the world and Nick Jonas taking his fiance to India and how, where and whatfor can any of us ever hope to be loved like that.

I am not kidding. I’m not even sure Instagram even knows what it’s talking about anymore. But I feel like I should say something, in the least, because I benefit from Hindu culture because it is the basis of my spiritual practices, because I can’t imagine life without my belly dance classes, because I make and sell Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim style prayer beads and because it is not unlikely you will see me with a blue gemstone stuck on my third eye until I can get the real thing to open and sparkle like a diamond in the sky of my mind – because that’s what I’m really waiting on.

But sometimes, what looks like cultural appropriation is in reality a form of self defense. Were it not for what we call cultural appropriation, I would be stuck with the God of my father, though my dad isn’t very religious if the truth be told. I’m sure somewhere in our family history, someone burned someone for witchcraft. I’m sure someone was in the KKK. If I were left among my ancestors, they’d burn me at the stake, too.

I want to be the the hard turn in the road of my family lineage. I don’t know that I could have done that with what I was born into. I do not come from a bad family, but I come from a white, southern family in which I didn’t always feel like I belonged. Each of us have an opportunity to craft a legacy. My Teacher says that with the endeavor to grow and heal we may offer healing for seven generations – ahead of us and for those who have gone before. I believe this, but I believe it takes a whole lot more than one parcel of the planet; an endeavor such as that requires every resource available, so we must reach and support the honest and earnest reaching of those around us so we can be lifted up in our search to find the Divinity within.

I’ll use anything at my disposal to deepen my relationship with my own Soul. I’ll share whatever I learn along the way, not as my own, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get to be the conduit of Grace. Sometimes, the Grace is found in reaching outside ourselves and finding the light of recognition in that which seems most foreign, which at once brings you Home.

 

 

Lightning Bug Lessons

I like twilight noises. I especially like the raspy lilting of cicadas and the throaty welp of frogs happy at night fall. As I sit in a quiet house on a quiet street in Atlanta, I can hear the steady cacophony of creatures beneath a twinkling urban sky; it’s early for night creatures but all the day walkers on the street seem to be sleeping. It’s just me and the alley cats, the crickets and rain.

After I arrived and unpacked, I went to the front porch to watch the day fade into that time when the landscape is in sharper focus because it doesn’t have to compete with the brilliant light of the sun. With my journal on my lap, I write a page about the marvel of a room in which I’m staying at the ashram during my trip to see my Teacher. I am in the room of a long time resident who is not currently home and the blessing of this is the photos, art and sacred objects in this cozy space. If I don’t have a dream about Jesus in this room, I can give it up forever, I’m just saying.

While I twirl the pen around my ear, a message winks at me from my phone. A car passes. A bird lands on the sidewalk then walks across the narrow, car lined street. I love this street and I love this ashram. As the stars come out and quiet descends, I feel the pangs of homesickness, like the twinge in leaving a lover at the airport.

To my left there is a twinkle in the bushes. It is a slow pulsation of light in midair.  I’m not ready to start having visions, yet I see it again; a yellow light, hovering and blinking on – off – on – and I see the silhouette of the bug it belongs to.

A lightning bug. I’d forgotten all about those. They are a relic from childhood, a legend like dinosaurs. We know they existed once, but don’t think about them so much unless they’re in a book we read or show up in a memory. But there it is, like a velociraptor tiptoeing down the street, like coffee with a dodo.

My phone blinks less artfully than the bulbous butt of this bug, and without thinking I open the screen and reply. While I text touchscreen letters onto a sleek mirrored screen the lightning bug maneuvers over to the porch, blinks again, then disappears into the magnolia bush. I look for him, my phone screen face down on the wood planks. There’s a twinge of regret that I might have missed befriending him while I was screwing around with my phone. As the shadows lengthen around me and streetlights come on, I know reality is never found on technology. It is in the myths of nature, the turning of time, and the breath of light we must pay attention to.

I stare at the street. I think of my cats, of getting to see Swami tomorrow, the novel I intend to finish editing and who I might con into reading it. I contemplate the Cats of Ancient Egypt exhibit at Emory I’ll see while I’m here and delicious vegan hotdogs with my friend. There is no order of importance to the catalog of my mind, it is ambling like the lightning bug in the bushes. Twilight turns darker and the night creatures grow louder. These sounds are comforting, like the noise from an air-filter while I sleep. The buzz and chirp of the street relaxes my mind.

I gather my journal and phone, but before I lift myself from the stoop I see that yellow breath of the lightning bug, brightly floating and friendly. He is the only one I see, and I wonder romantically if he is the last of his kind and what he does with himself. How long will he live, how will he carry on his lineage?

I’m in my comfortable, borrowed lair still thinking of that lightning bug. He offers the message not to become distracted from what is real by the murmurings and winks of the modern world; otherwise we might miss the sudden flash in the magnolia bush, the spark of realization in the heart. The lightning bug says we don’t have to flash too quickly, a slow steady pulse will do. And if someone isn’t giving you the attention you want or need, pass on by and keep doing your own thing.

I looked up the symbolism of the lightning bug. I figure if an animal crosses your path suddenly after a 30 year absence or repeatedly in a short span of time, it’s interesting to investigate what they’re trying to tell you. That sparky little guy brings tidings of illumination and the message not to underestimate marvels and miracles just because  they may have an uninspiring appearance during daytime hours. The breath is intrinsically linked with Light – the lighting bugs flash bulbs are created by a chemical reaction between certain enzymes in the presence of magnesium ion, ATP and oxygen. This is not very different from humans; deeper breaths = more Light.

“That which is night for all sentient beings is like day for one whose senses are controlled. That which is the time of awakening for a sentient being is like the night for the introspective sage who sees.” The Bhagavad Gita chapter 2.69

 

The Mysticism of Mondays

About a year ago I sat with the resident tarot intuitive, Uma Simon, at Kashi Florida and had my cards read. About a year previous to this she did a reading for me over the phone. At the conclusion of this reading, I told her that I, too, once read cards. I hadn’t realized I’d been missing it until the admission fell from my lips.

I’d stopped reading tarot cards when I realized how ardently I’d been wrestling with them. Somewhere between terrible romantic relationships for my entire adult life and going into yoga teacher training I became exhausted by the various methods of mental and energetic martial arts I employed against the Universe. My plea was often, “Tell me what in the f*ck to do!” while attempting to get the Cosmos to submit in a badly executed leg lock.

Uma gave me some advice at the end of that conversation that opened the door to reading cards without the plastic and superficial focus of fortune telling. It seems when we try to foresee the future it can cheapen the moment; from this I have learned from my renewed interest in tarot that what it really deals with is the present moment and everything we bring with us into it. It deals with the same space as meditation and other spiritual practices, making tarot its own sadhana. In this way, tarot may offer inspiration and perspective without the gravity of neediness that accompanies the desperation of, “Tell me what in the f*ck to do!”

I’d gotten rid of all my decks except for the Ancient Egyptian Tarot, which interestingly can be found on Amazon right now for about three hundred dollars, used. No you can’t have mine and no, it isn’t for sale. I also kept the Tarot of the Cat People and Halloween Tarot, all of which I kept with the same reverence I store old paperback romance novels I can’t bring myself to get rid of, up to and including Quantum Leap fan fiction (I am not kidding).

Invigorated by my conversation with Uma, I began buying new decks. I relish the new, independent decks out there now, from the wild and naked She Wolfe Tarot to the demure, tea stained Ophidia Rosa Tarot. Dear Reader, I became a tarot slut. I love being able to look at the cards online before I buy the deck and all the unboxing videos. I think the colors and audacity and sometimes irreverent simplicity of twenty-first century decks are amazing. I feel like a time traveler in a new era. I also bought the Rider-Waite Smith deck because that is what Uma used and I wanted to have it in my collection as an homage to her because she empowered my reading so sincerely.

My most recent purchase is Mystic Mondays – Good Vibes Only  – which is an independently published tarot deck that probably went through a fundraising cycle for its first few incarnations before getting picked up by a publisher (congratulations). I’ve looked at this deck before and thought to myself, “Prana Devi, you can’t take all of them home.”

Some of you may remember Monastic Mondays, a practice I had years ago when I was in teacher training. Sometimes called my Pants-less Holiday, I’d resolve not to do anything any more necessary than meditate, write and possibly go for a run (I would wear pants for that). Monday is a day sacred to Shiva, so I adopted this practice as a devotional practice, sometimes doing a semi-fast or practicing a coffee puja – you know, normal stuff.

It was the one day of the week on which I was uncompromising. I wouldn’t take or make an appointment, I wouldn’t even leave the house. This time of hermitage is important and sacred because I work in the public, with the public, almost every other day of the week. But then I started teaching yoga, which in some ways is just another way of working with the public, even though you can usually assume the clientele will behave a little less like the damn public and a little more like human beings.

I taught two classes on Monday, adding this to my schedule thinking that teaching a yoga class couldn’t possibly impinge on my monastic holiday but would, in fact, enhance it. Teaching yoga is a sacred offering, after all. Y’all, I was a new teacher and didn’t know any better. By the time I realized I’d sold my only sacrosanct day of the week it was too late; the studio owner held my feet to the fire. Of course, I allowed it, so bad on me.

When the Mystic Mondays tarot crossed my screen on Instagram with the announcement that this was the last round of self-published decks and the next batch would be printed by a publisher (congratulations) I felt a flutter of panic because there is something innately special about the effort and quality of the self-published tarot deck. They seem to have a little more of the artists’ hand on them, they are a little closer to the origin of all art. So I visited the website, where I read the inspiration for Mystic Mondays tarot: The name Mystic Mondays is inspired by fresh starts and new beginnings. We have the power to set intentions that will carry on with us for the day, week, year, or even a lifetime. Mystic Mondays is a lighthearted way to introduce spirituality into your daily life, and most of all, to have some fun while you’re doing it!

I realized I previously treated Monday like a reset point, a day home following sometimes grueling weekends of restaurant work. Monday, of all days, was a daylong spiritual retreat. I found for myself something opposite of the Monday blues, where we set and forget intentions for our day, week, year or lifetime.

Mystic Mondays arrived on Monday, which I take as an auspicious sign. My life is different than it was when I was in teacher training, I am busier but the nature of my work is no longer chaotic. I’m not strung out with the dogged determination to be a full-time yoga teacher; I am content right now with the work I do because of the freedom it gives me. Even so, I go through days when I think about challenging the Universe, to rush and wrestle, perhaps against the stream, for the life I imagined for myself eight or ten years ago.

I’m inspired anew to take these goals, intentions and moments of simple being Monday to Monday, perhaps day by day, and if I’m really smart, moment to moment. The future is waiting ahead of a million choices and breaths, the past can not breathe for us. But in the moment is where every inspiration has been brought through into reality. The moment is where I wish to sit, enlivened perhaps by brightly colored pictures of inspiration and perspective.