A Tale of Cataclysmic Stagnation

I just clicked on a blog post for writers wherein the author listed the most popular books to read if you want to write. Scrolling the article, my mind responded to each suggestion as follows:

Got it

Read it

Hated it

Loved it

Borrowed it

Just bought it. Returned it.

Then I wondered, when did my inner dialogue begin to sound like Grumpy Cat (God rest his soul)?

Last night I was sitting in the chair where I sit and think quietly, one of my favorite things to do. This is an activity completely different from meditation, wherein one tries not to think, utilizing all manner of tools and techniques to invoke the serenity of the infinite within the confines of the human condition. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

That is not what I do when I sit and think quietly to myself. I stare at a wall and ruminate. I allow the flotsam of past failures to froth the edges of my mind like filth and foam on a shoreline. I tilt my head and remember an idea I once had and quickly forgot, resolving to write it down so I’ll remember this time. I don’t write it down, I forget it again. It must not have been that good of an idea.

Last night, whilst sitting and thinking quietly to myself, I remembered a day in the fourth grade, upon which I hear my favorite and most loathed sentences within one directive; “Class, we’re going to do a creative writing exercise.” Oh yes! Thank you Mrs. Glisten! “And we’re going to break up into small groups of four.” Also Mrs. Glisten, go f*ck yourself.

The fact  that I remember that teacher’s name and the kid who ruined my school year should give you ample information about the fourth grade. Kerry, long silky black hair and chipmunk cheeks that are not as endearing as the chubby nut cubbies adorning the visage of her rodent counterpart. Her eyes are so dark brown they are black and she has an earnest expression that won her the title of Hall Monitor. I imagined her taking the special hall monitor sash home each night and ironing it before lovingly hanging it on the coat hook beside her monogrammed book bag.

Just to get you up to speed, I didn’t have anything monogrammed, my cheeks weren’t chubby – I was just fat, and I was the kid the Hall Monitor monitored being late to class because even in the fourth grade I didn’t do mornings.

Alas, she was one of three other kids in my “small group” writing exercise. We turn our desks to make a large square with two pairs of children facing each other over the hieroglyphic-like carvings in the pseudo wood surface beneath our open notebooks. I am ready. I’ve dealt with PE, science, dehydration, the indignities of math including the insult of fractions I may never get over, an inedible lunch and a remarkably delicious juice box containing no less than ten percent fruit juice. I have earned this moment.

The school store sold those mechanical pencils with the stacks of re-loadable lead so there is always a sharp point. I relish the clear, smooth lined paper and the glittery cylinder of the pencil gleaming in my plump hand. I am already thinking something in a rain forest setting, as I look at the white board and regard the brainstorming outline with dubious curiosity. I’m not sure it’s going to be helpful, but the assignment is kinda based on using it, so there is that.

I am not kidding, it looked almost exactly like this:Image result for bubble outline brainstorming

Seriously, where did Mrs. Glisten find a brainstorming map on the internet in 1990?

I do not remember the other kids in our group. I think they were boys and participated at the level Kerry and I were willing to allow had we not gotten ourselves locked in a cataclysmic stalemate. You see, I think a rain forest would be a great setting for our story and she has become stricken with writer’s block. She is holding her head in her hands. Her rosy lips, shaped like two skis leaning against each other under her nose, pout in such a way that begs for drool. Her black eyes glisten as she stares at the page beneath her. This is the first time I have ever seen a person go into a trance.

I’m like, “Whaaat?” If you know me in real life, you should know the face you might recognize as accompanying this question has not changed since I was in the fourth grade.

“I have writer’s block.”

My ears go back. “What?” The “t’ is hard now, like I staunched the flow of more words behind it.

“I have it. I can’t think of anything. I’m blocked.” You know, you must be a writer to have writer’s block. The little smart ass, showing us all what a good writer she is with her block, before we even have a chance to begin our story.

“Well, I thought of opening our story in a rain forest…” I thump my unmarred eraser on the blank page.

All for naught my friend. Kerry is so committed to this writer’s block that she stares at her paper the entire time and the boys act scared, like this is one of those feminine hysterics they heard about in the opening monologue on The Arsenio Hall Show.

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the fourth grade. I actually wanted to write as soon as I knew that there are people whose job is to compose those things I loved so much; books. On this day in the fourth grade, I learned I do not suffer fools well (unless, clearly, I am dating one) and that my well for bullshit must have dried completely up back in the first grade when Mrs. Jordan made a great big stinking deal about differentiating the enunciation between “pin” and “pen”. I can still hear her, god bless her Yankee heart, every time one of us chillen from Alabama said “piyun”. I think she should have been grateful we could differentiate between a pen and a Q-tip… but I digress.

That day I wrote something about a rain forest; there was a monkey and a unicorn and I wrote about the sky. I remember Mrs. Glisten taught me a new word that day, vast. It was a more interesting, more writerly, word than the one I’d used. I liked it. I allowed the boys some input and Kerry shrank and withered beneath the weight of her writer’s block. As always, I was just glad when the school day finally ended and I could get on with my life.

I do not have writer’s block. I have had moments in which self-doubt stalled work so dramatically there are still skid marks across my laptop from the speed with which my story came to a halt, but that’s just getting too much in my own head. I have ideas, but implementing them isn’t my strong suite. This, I believe, is genetic; I’m working on it. If I were a smart cookie, I’d do some writing practice a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. I’d go for a walk, I’d write anyway, if I may borrow from the now famous advice of Stephen King, “Writing equals ass in chair.” Sometimes I just stare at the wall. Eventually I make my way back.

Of all the books on writing I have read, some of which were pretty good, those are the two bits of advice that help me the most, and not just in the realm of writing. You must practice writing with the same focus, and mad devotion that you approach spiritual practice (Natalie Goldberg) and you must show up for it every single day (Stephen King).

These authors are nothing alike, as far as I can tell. I don’t actually even read Stephen King’s work aside from his book, On Writing (as far as horror goes, I’m more of an Ann Rice girl myself, but to my knowledge she never wrote a book for writers). Their success doesn’t look the same, either. But they are both unquestionably professional writers, which by my estimation means that writing is their only job – my litmus for success BTW. Writer’s block be damned.

 

 

 

 

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.

Image result for azalea

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

 

What Does the Moon Think?

A little while ago, whilst sitting in meditation, I was thinking…

I have this marvelous space for meditation. It’s in the corner near the bed with a low writing table to my left so that when I sit down to practice all manner of witchy yogi things, I’m enclosed and low to the ground, thus facilitating a baseline sense of security. My meditation table in front of me is long and nearly as low as my writing table. The blue wood surface is covered with images of importance; murtis (deity statues), photographs, gemstones, malas…

I have back pain in the upper back, somewhere in the neighborhood of my shoulder blades. This pain is probably from restaurant work, wherein I heft trays laden with food to and fro. Sometimes, this ache makes sitting tall and straight a challenge, so I recently contrived a seat against the wall near the bed, still within energetic reach of my meditation table and all of the meaningful accouterments thereupon. It is fortunate that from this vantage I may view pictures of my Teacher, my Guru and a stone Ganesha on the wall.

I’m reminded of my recent visit to Kashi Florida, the ashram where the Teacher of my Heart studied and where I just went on retreat during Durga Puja – the culmination of nine nights of celebration in honor of the Divine Mother. Temples abound in Kashi Florida; you can’t go to lunch without walking by several sacred spaces and, in truth, the entire field of houses and green is sacred, holy ground.

While I was in Kashi, I had a different sense of myself, as though self-awareness mingled with a dream. I ambled into a treeline and appeared on the other side at a yoga studio in the jungle; green and welcoming like the small shala, which means home abode of Yoga. I might find the path around the Ganga pond and peer into a thick ring of bamboo sheltering the large golden Buddha, an expanse of crystal at his knees. Perhaps I enter a home residence and, walking through the kitchen, find myself in the theater of study where Ma Jaya taught, teaches still, before a tall glossy black Kali who summons me to her feet.

In the midst of these spaces, ideas don’t so much encroach. To-do lists crumple and burn like parchment on hot coals. My what-might-have-been mentality, which haunts the corners of my mind like newly made ghosts, decays into the rich dark soil that feeds the jungle shrubs where The Mother dances, just off the path to the dining hall. I can feel that space now, evoked by the writing, and errant thoughts float away like petals cast onto the quiet surface of water. Each question of my mind is answered with another question made more sacred for the asking; why was all of that running around so important? What was bothering me so?

Oh, yes, thinking in meditation.

Back home again, my work is to continue to remember that feeling and freedom and bring it through my own life. Is this really even work, come to think of it? It is the only work that matters, I have decided.

Dear Reader, unless you are brand new to my posts, you are well aware that my work has confounded me and made me feel misplaced. I have had ideas about myself that I am not always sure how to align with my reality, so I flail around and make decisions  without all of the necessary information.

It was upon these ideas about myself I was contemplating whilst trying to meditate with my back against the wall. My small white dog made herself comfortable at my shins, not unlike the large crystal mountain range below the Buddha in the bamboo garden. Here I’m breathing into my heart, submitting my thoughts to the churn of that space in spite of the pesky protests the mind sees fit to produce.

As though from on high, a thought unoriginal to the low mind illuminates the moment; The Moon has no idea of itself and there is nothing else like it in the cosmos. There are other moons, how many does Saturn have? But none like ours… there is not another like ours. It shines radiant and full or collapses into the thinnest sliver, finding in its own darkness a well of renewal and replenishes us all with its draw on the tide.

This new train of thought is bright, like moonlight without the competition of garish streetlights. I am emboldened, thinking of the Sun, which has no idea of itself, either, but is simply bright and burning as a constant service to us all.  And there are stars, each unique in its combustion and placement, not a one contemplates its future or its distant, molten past.

Closer to Earth, I think of the black cat I adore. She sleeps unself-consciously, never doubting for a moment that she will be nourished with food and love. She does not question the path that lead her to me, or me to her; she has no idea about herself perhaps other than Love and being Loved as a feeling of wisdom in the language she speaks. My little dog at my shins dozes without the intrusion of ideas, just simple awareness of our nearness.

Granted, who am I to know what the Sun and the Moon are thinking? Who am I to say what the Cat knows? I don’t know, except that I know myself to be a disciple of the Sun, I am the Moon’s daughter, the Cat and I are Sacred Companions. I am learning that ideas are vastly different from inspiration; ideas can be unyielding, inspiration can expand and contract, like the breath, so it is life giving and sacred. An idea may only be acted upon, inspiration moves through us and we act of its behalf. I think, more than anything, ideas come from the outside in, from points of reference. I think inspiration is a gift from the inside out, like a heart beat’s cosmic reverberation.

I think ideas are meant to be guideposts until we can listen from the inside, thereafter to answer and call forth inspiration through the art of our practices, so we can see the path that leads into the treeline, and follow that narrow trail of rich Earth all the way home to ourselves.

 

 

 

Rethinking The Great American Eclipse

This is the day before the Great American Eclipse and let me tell you something – I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing articles on it and talking about it, too. I read horoscopes and Vedic astrology and like any decent new age kid I follow The Hood Witch, Mystic Mamma and Serpentfire on Instagram, so I kinda already know everything about all the woo woo of this eclipse in Leo. Just saying.

Right now I’m over it all. There is an expectation in the air for this eclipse, like we’re collectively going to be able to release dogmas that have held us back from being our best, brightest and most enlightened selves. We’re going to break through or jump over this eclipse portal to be somehow different and better than before. It’s like 2012 all over again without the hysteria and subterranean fear of aliens no one wanted to talk about until after it was over.

This eclipse portal and all its fetishized implications, the least of which is that this country’s leadership will somehow come under the control of someone with some sense, makes me feel like an under achiever. There’s lots of internet chatter, which I have resolved to henceforth ignore unless it’s in regards to this blog or my Etsy shop, about this eclipse aligning us with our true purpose, our dharma, our raison d’etre. I’ve heard that before and now it’s just starting to piss me off.

Maybe it’s because I have a cold and feel like an under achiever, because all I want to do is drink ginger tea and eat noodles, but I feel pissy about this topic of dharma and purpose. Does this mean that in my pissy-ness I will neglect my practices, that I won’t do my mantra or that I’ll say to hell with you all and those damn cardboard glasses that make everyone who puts them on look like ALF?

Of course I will do my practices, but I’m not doing them with any certainty that lightening will crack open the sky and I’ll have a clear vision of my own raison d’etre – eclipse or no. In fact, I’m not so sure about that whole reason for being anymore, at least not in the great sweeping sense of finality that has made me feel like a desperate yogi on the lookout from some outpost on the edge of the world. Maybe we’re not supposed to have the one, explicit unchangeable thing that we are – poet, doctor, lover, priest, garbageman, physicist…. What if the work isn’t to discover what we are but, instead, to peel away everything we are not.

I spent six years thinking, decidedly, that my purpose on this planet was to teach yoga classes. I fell in with a crowd who I let convince me that “job” and “calling” must coincide and I’ve been miserable ever since. By the time I wrapped that up a few months ago, I felt strained resentment for the “profession” and annoyance at the decidedly shiny happy people who insist on yoga #everydamnday and never ever admitting to feelings of sadness, frustration or anything below the acceptable baseline of utter joy.

Sometime around my first year of teaching yoga I did Rod Stryker’s online workshop on The Four Desires, which is a book about helping the aspirant uncover the fundamental intention of their soul and purpose for walking upon this Earth. The book talks about intention, decision and the four aims of life which are the investment of oneself equally in duty, wealth, pleasure and the pursuit of liberation. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much me #everydamnday

Upon further contemplation and a few years under my belt, I am given pause at the audacity of someone implying I must qualify my existence with an acceptable statement of intent.  All of the stream of consciousness writing I did during this online workshop with The Four Desires left me feeling as confounded as reading about the implications of this eclipse we’re looking at tomorrow. If there is work to do, I don’t know what it is. If there are special maaracas I am supposed to shake, then I don’t know where they are. If I am supposed to be something more or different than myself after the moon dances in front of the sun tomorrow afternoon, I don’t know what that looks like.

Dear Reader, have you ever practiced puja or prayers in which you left offerings on your meditation table or altar? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers or a small cup of water in front of a picture of the Black Madonna or Jesus? Have you ever removed the pits from dates and left them before a statue of the Buddha? Have you ever dared to leave dark chocolate before an image of Kali?

Well, I have (or variations thereof), and sometimes I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to do other than leave the milk, the oats, the water or incense. Should I do something more than leave an offering? Ought I to say a special mantra specifically designed for aspirants on the spiritual path to say while making devotionals? If so, I don’t know what it is and am confounded by that, too.

Then, like lightening opening the sky, one night it struck me that it’s not my job to know what to do with the offerings. I hand it over for a reason…. I give over the chocolate, the flowers, the water, the flame and I set it down. Setting it down is part of the practice. Perhaps, for some of us, it is the hardest part of the practice. But by the very virtue of being the one leaving the offering, I am not the one who has to know what to do with it.

So here we are on the precipice of this magnificent celestial event, and if you’re anything like me you might have cultivated all sorts of spiritual expectations and psychic implications around it. It’s okay, as you can see, clearly I have too. But I’ve been doing some writing today, and I’ve been doing the one practice I have clung to during the maelstrom of information, astrological guidance and implicit warnings regarding the path of the moon’s shadow passing over our great nation.

That one practice to which I have clung is the silent mantra, which is a great tool for overcoming the shadow of negative thinking that stretches across the mind during times of transformation and change. Sometimes, negativity manifests as expectation. Think about it – has doing something awesome ever made you feel like crap? No, it hasn’t. But any wall of expectation you built around the awesome thing you did might have made you feel like crap. If it didn’t then you’re more enlightened than me, so…..call me, tell me your ways. Because if I write and publish a book and it’s anything less than a run away best seller, I’m going to feel like a failure. See, isn’t that crazy? That’s what I’m talking about.

I see the real potential for this eclipse to leave folks deflated and a little depressed, like the wake of a few weeks into the New Year, because I’ve seen a lot of talk regarding the expectations of this eclipse. There is a heightened sense of something, and even though we don’t know what it is or even if it’ll be good, at least it’ll be different.

Make your expectations like an offering to the Sun – set them down and let ’em go.

At the eleventh hour, when I’ve had quite enough of all this talk of dharma, transformation and upheaval, I’m going to suggest you do whatever it is you’re gonna do and to the best of your ability, let it go. Get grounded before you stare into the sun, set your feet firmly on the path to which you committed and hold onto your practices with both hands. If you’re doing that, then you won’t have a free hand to hang onto expectations and projections so, whether this eclipse is just a really cool astronomical occurrence or a major astrological event that ushers in a time of peace and prosperity, you’ll be receptive and present.

Also – this is what everyone I’ve seen so far looks like wearing their eclipse glasses….

alfglasses

 

 

The Great Outdoors

For the month of March we endeavored to practice one yoga pose every single day. We went with the same posture; downward facing dog. One down dog every day and see what happens.

I thought about adding onto this, building a pose by month sequence so at the end of the year we’d get up to twelve poses a day. But the weather has been so pretty lately and I can be such a shut-in that I want to offer a variation on home practice.

Let’s practice outside. I know what you’re thinking because it’s the same thing I was thinking when I wanted to practice outside – bugs. Bugs and sunshine. Yuck. Combine the two and you have a perfectly good nightmare.

Last week I ordered an all-weather picnic blanket. The thought of eating outside is almost as horrific as doing yoga outside, so a picnic blanket is not something I thought I’d ever own, but it’s Spring and I’m feeling it. The pattern on my large all-weather picnic blanket is blue flowers on a darker blue background and looks not unlike a sheet set we had when I was five. I love it.

Last Sunday, thanks to Amazon Prime and my decisive internet shopping bonanza, I take my blue hippie flower all-weather blanket outside and find a nice area of the yard free of dog poop. The wind blows through the branches above me, which I take for a good sign. I go in and slather SPF 50 on my dedicates and ink, some of which overlap. Unperturbed by the heat, I grab the dish towel with a faded strawberry pattern to keep handy in case I sweat. Even though the Florida sun cannot possibly be hotter than an unholy hot yoga class, I decide to play it safe. No need slipping in a puddle of sweat and having to wait for someone to find me.

When I begin my practice the sun has arced over head and is on its downward journey to the sea. It is still high enough to be brilliant and warm on my skin like a cosmic heating pad administering healing vibes to my sore muscles. Though it is warm, there is a steady Spring breeze that keeps me cool and inspired. There are a few clouds that hang around above me. They are full, white and comfortable in their powder blue home.

The dogs are displeased with this sojourn into the outside and that it excludes them, but they try to escape through the holes in the fence the raccoons dug and I don’t want to worry about them while I bask in sunlit tranquility. Also, they bark. I leave them inside to sulk.

I do the practices I received the last time I went to see Swami. It’s a beautiful sequence to the bright red moon. There is also a breathing practice and mantra sadhana (chanting practice) included at the conclusion. It’s the real deal, ya’ll, at least as long as a “real” yoga class, if not longer if you include the time I spent just looking up into the trees and sky.

This isn’t practical in the everyday world for a daily practice. It is hard practicing everyday and it is especially difficult if I have in my head it is supposed to look a certain way. But I think, given the warmth and sunshine, this is something I can do once a week for a month to see what happens.

So this is what we’re adding on; practice outside at least once a week for the month of April. I think that an enclosed porch, outdoor patio or balcony counts (one of the most amazing practices I ever enjoyed solo was on a third floor balcony in Gulf Shores around mid-night). If you like the beach and are into sand and that sort of thing, try taking your mat out there. There are also some really nice parks around, but the backyard is nice, too.

At this point, you might have a question you want to ask; Prana Devi, I’d love to practice yoga outside and bask in the tranquility of the sun. But I haven’t been practicing yoga for very long and I don’t know what to do. How do I practice yoga outside when I don’t really know how to practice yoga?

Excellent question! I’ll give you a few options. First, go to the bookstore. Find the magazine section and, I am not kidding, buy a print yoga magazine. This is how I built my own home practice. Most yoga magazines have at least one, if not several, practice sequences with pretty good explanations. Take the magazine outside with you and lay it open on your all-weather picnic blanket. Use crystals, your coffee cup or mala beads to hold the pages open. Do what the pictures tell you.

Your phone is another option. That marvel of modern technology has more computing capability than the first spaceships. Find a good educational yoga website, choose a video and do it – outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. I suggest Yoga International.

Lastly, start taking yoga classes and take notes of sequences you like. Ask the instructor to make a short sequence for you so you can take it home and practice outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. Remember your practice does not have to be long to count and it does not have to be complex to have meaning. You just have to do it. Let me know how it goes.

If you are still practicing the daily down dog stick with it and see how many days you can go. If you want to freshen up your single pose du jour, for the month of April pick an asymmetrical posture like Warrior 1 or seated spinal twist. You’ll have to do both sides which, if you think about it, is like doing two yoga poses a day!

Lastly, if you choose to order an outdoor blanket make sure its measurements are larger than your yoga mat is long. I practice on a longer 72 inch yoga mat so double-check your measurements to avoid disappointment. Who in the hell wants their yoga mat touching the ground? We mat be practicing outside, but we’re not insane!