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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Practical Magic

queen of cups

This New Year’s day happens to fall on the very same day in which the moon, our luminous satellite, is full in the night sky.

This is very auspicious.

Since getting on Instagram and enjoying all of the belly dance, tarot card and cat picture posts by resident witches, pagans and gypsies from around the world, I’ve discovered that everyone on the planet is an authority on astrology. I’ll be scrolling and see a long, emoji peppered post by a yoga teacher talking about how the moon is in Virgo so we better watch out, because it ain’t exalted there – or whatever.

I’m always like, “How do y’all know that? Where do you get your information?” Because I’m over here with my We’moon calendar trying to figure out what the symbol with the squiggly lines and horned dots is supposed to mean while the rest of y’all are planning your month around Pluto’s transits and solar flares.

The moon, on the other hand, is less foreign to me. The moon changes signs once about every two and a half days, so if you eff up a perfectly decent Moon in Libra by fighting with your spouse, you’ll get a re-do in about twenty eight days.

The new moon is a time for starting new projects and for setting intentions for what we would like to see increase in our lives. Think setting goals, re-aligning with your dreams, growing a business plan. Intention is something like a resolution, of which there are plenty at the New Year. Start a diet, get fit, finish the book, start the book, become a yoga celebrity, start college, ditch the loser, find a partner, quit drinking, quit smoking… you know what I’m talking about.

This is thinking in terms of, “I’m gonna do.” Not bad, but let’s turn it around.

The full moon is a good time to start thinking about what you would like to let go of, what you would like to see decrease in your life, what no longer upholds your dreams and aspirations or supports your work, whether that’s spiritually, mentally or physically. Think about what holds you back or enables procrastination. Y’all, the cosmos has set us up to do exactly that right here at the new year.

Turn your powers of discernment towards your day to day habits, contemplate what you want for your life and see where the two points are at odds. Question what you have set in place that keeps you from it. Instead of making a list of resolutions that you’re gonna start doing, decipher how you can get out of your own way and focus on that.

 

Now we’ve gotten around to the point of this post – your practice, should you choose to accept it. First, let me tell you that I have learned the fine art of using index cards in my spiritual practice from my beloved Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi. She has us write stuff on index cards all the time.

So here we go, starting right now, start thinking about habits that get in the way of what you really want to be doing with your life. Immediately one or two might come to you, but stay with it and see if there is anything beneath the surface. You can even take this into your meditation and sit with a nice, slow fire breath for about a minute and then sit in the stillness to see what comes up.

There may be one big hurdle that you want to focus all of your energy and upon which you wish all of the moon’s brilliant rays to shine. However, there may be a lot of small ways in which you sabotage yourself, so just write that stuff down, too. Now is a good time to remind you to approach this practice without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just remember that you’re trying to make a little room in your life to start a flower bed but you have to shovel out some dirt, first. Full moon is for excavation, new moon is for planting.

On New Year’s eve or day build yourself a nice little bonfire. Invite the kids and get some marshmallows and vegan hot dogs. Invite your family and friends and have plenty of index cards. Say a sweet prayer for guidance and protection to whomever you entrust your path and practice then invite everyone to write on their index card. No one needs to read anyone else’s, but between bites of s’mores place your card in the flames.

You may not be set up for a bonfire. Don’t worry about it. A fireplace or a coffee can in the driveway works nicely, too. But let me tell you something, this practice doesn’t have to be so woo woo. You can write, think, text, email your list to yourself and then delete it, recycle it, bury it. What you’re going for is awareness of self-limiting habits and then a method in which to transform it.

Don’t expect overnight magic, though we can hope, can’t we? We’ll have to work at it and remain mindful, but this is deeply symbolic to the human psyche and a powerful method of solidifying your intentions. Consider what you put in the fire to be an offering to your highest Self and to the inspiration you wish to have and to be. I wish you all the luck and all the space to express your creativity, compassion and genius in the new year. Remember to work with fire responsibly, make an effort on behalf of the good and share your stories with me if you’d like.

* Image “Queen of Cups” from Danielle Noel’s forthcoming tarot deck Moon Child, shadow deck to the Star Child Tarot. @moonchildtarot starchildtarot.com

No Show November – On The Other Side of the Up-Side-Down

I like to get into the Halloween spirit just like any other witchy thirty something, but wanted to watch something besides Hocus Pocus for the hundredth time. Just because I watched every single Saw movie doesn’t mean I like them. I prefer a whimsical Halloween; I like my Halloween movies to have a certain amount of glitter, humor, romance (Practical Magic, anyone?) or be old enough to be considered a classic – Carrie.

Netflix has been telling me for a year that I need to watch Stranger Things, but I wouldn’t listen. I was too caught up in The Adventures of Merlin and Frasier reruns to take a gamble on something new. That, and the preview for it looked like a spin-off of TheTwilight Zone and X Files, neither of which I like to watch after dark or alone.

Well, about two weeks ago, smack dab in the middle of October, I took a chance on episode one of Stanger Things. Oh, goodbye forever! I felt myself getting sucked into the television like that kid in Poltergeist. The first night I watched three episodes.

I am not a t.v. person on the regular. I have been known to quit dating a guy whose idea of a good time was watching the director’s cut with extras and cast interviews. I hate that. That’ll damn the relationship like Akasha and her vampire offspring in Queen of the Damned.  Boy, bye!

After two nights of Stranger Things season one, I dreamed I was in Atlanta desperately trying to find an Eckerd Drugs because I needed a special make-up kit. In this dream, I faced all manner of dangers, a monster I never actually saw, a dark alley and a Walgreens, but no Eckerd Drugs, which was a popular pharmacy in the eighties.

After I woke up and figured out I was at home and still without the much coveted make-up bag, I resolved I’d give myself a few days away from Stranger Things. That night while I was watching episode seven, I gave up. A week later I was driving home from work and saw a man walking his dog and the first thought that came to mind was “Demigorgon” (for those of you not bitten by this venus fly trap, that’s the name of the show’s monster). I was in deep.

By the time season two was released on October 27th I did manage to go to work, but beyond coming home and feeding myself, that’s about it. I watched three episodes unapologetically. Y’all I went off the rails with this show like at Thanksgiving when I have the pumpkin, pecan and sweet potato pie all on the same plate and look around waiting on someone to say something. I went off the rails like on my birthday when I get out the soup tureen so I have a bowl big enough for my cake plus ice cream.

During this haze of consumption I felt conflicted, not unlike when my sister and I would get our hands on the newest season of True Blood on DVD and succumb to the hilarity, humanity and gore that show produced. I’d think of all the things I ought to be doing, like knotting that super amazing jade mala I put on yellow cord, for instance, or doing something – anything – with the third draft of my novel.

I just didn’t feel conflicted enough to do anything about it. Finally, by the seventh episode of season two, I convinced myself that this show is so good it’s like doing research on good story telling and that binge watching it is, in fact, going to help my writing career. Yeah, I had it that bad.

Now I’ve seen every single episode and am content and satiated with a subtle longing for more – exactly what I hope to offer my readers one day, so maybe it was good for my writing career, like studying character development in Witches of Eastwick. 

While I was wondering what in the hell I am going to do with my life now that I’ve seen all the episodes, contemplating even getting back to relative normality, I considered the looming NaNoWriMo fast approaching. “National Novel Writing Month” is the entire month of November where writers are challenged to compose a fifty thousand word masterpiece in thirty days.

I have no intention of hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year, I have enough problems of my own right now with the third draft of a very not bad novel looking forlornly from the corner of my big ‘ole desk. I don’t need the drama of two novels fighting, it would be like Freddy Versus Jason around here!

NaNoWriMo did give me an idea, though more related to No Shave November; by the way, this year I’m participating. By mid-month it’ll look like I’m wearing cashmere leggings.

No Show November is a challenge to not watch a show any night of the week. No new shows, nothing hot off the press from Netflix, nothing I’ve got on DVD, not even the news. This also includes YouTube, Instagram videos and infomercials unless you must watch any of the above specifically for work or study. For instance, if Sahdia teaches the hagala shimmy in belly dance class and I manage to forget how to do it before I get all the way home, then bet your bum I’m going to find it on YouTube, however, this does not mean I’m supposed to watch two hours of Belly Dance Superstars Live at the Pyramids.

So I’m going to start No Show November today. The idea of this might make you feel kinda tense. It does me, too. I like to have the television on, even if it’s on the radio station. When I knot malas, I sometimes like to have it on a Disney movie, depending on the vibe I’m working on. I like to watch a program with dinner. This challenge might have to be amended along the way, but I am curious what the first week will be like. I don’t want to feel like my novel is, in fact, the never ending story, so I’m going to use all my free time from No Show November to see if I can finish this incarnation and at least get to draft four. I’ll periodically remind myself this isn’t forever but just a little mental detox.

Wish me luck and join me if you want to. If you do, I’d like to know how it goes for you and in what you would like to invest your new found free time. Good Luck. The challenge starts now!

 

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

 

 

Under the Mat

In the world of hairdressing, there is a saying “Behind the chair…” which is code for tips, tricks and horror stories. Tonight a Yogi in teacher training messaged me about my “worst deer in the headlights yoga teaching moments.” I was referred to him by a friend. My response might become a new blog series. These are my tales from under the mat….

At the beginning of my yoga class I like to ask students what they want to work on. I like this opportunity to interact before class begins and it allows time for those who are on time to settle into the space.

Once, not so very long ago, a man replied to my inquiry, “I’d like to learn one handed handstand.”

Dear Reader, I do not practice one handed handstand for so many reasons, but it’s lucky for this guy that I know enough about alignment and stuff that I can effectively teach it. If you’re in yoga teacher training and reading this, please be advised that you don’t have to be able to perform every pose to teach every pose so long as you understand what you’re teaching. Got it? Also, there is usually someone in the room who can do it; use them to demonstrate the pose.

One handed handstand it is. I begin the class with everything we’re going to need for this posture, though I am not sure if Iyengar included it in his work Light on Yoga, but what the hell, right? We say mantras for supple joints and I pass out calcium supplements just to be safe. We do shoulder stuff and activate our abdominal muscles and everything. At the end of this class I move me over to the wall, where we shall discuss and perhaps consider this pose for ourselves.

I invite the man who suggested this pose of the day to the wall with me, where I will assist, coach and encourage him. And do you know what he says to me?

“I was just kidding.”

“What?” I ask with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. “What?”

Well, he might have been kidding but there I was, up against a wall and an entire room of yoga students expecting a demonstration. I demonstrated a perfectly respectable handstand and, while up-side-down, described what one might expect of a one handed handstand were I to demonstrate that, which I did not.

Then, most of the students go to the wall and they practice perfectly respectable handstands… with both hands firmly on the ground thankyouverymuch.

Another story that comes to mind is about a mother and daughter who visited Uru Yoga studio when it first opened. They were both very nice, they were both really into yoga and they were both almost always late.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a yoga class, but the first five -ish minutes of class are introspective and meditative. This is so even at the gyms, where it is equally important to settle in and focus on the breath before movement.

It is during this quiet time, before the music starts and I start hollering cues, that these two women would inevitably open the door and stomp down the ramp that leads into the large practice space. They sounded like Lipizzaner stallions high stepping in their tennis shoes, which they wore as they walked all the way across the long room to the opposite end of the space.

Inevitably, one would unroll her mat like she was trying to kill something with it and I’d see the rest of the class, trying to pretend like an Army platoon hadn’t just descended on the yoga studio on leave, flinch from the sudden and loud noises of their revelry. I’d keep talking, “Breath in and listen to the sound of your breath…” and I’d watch while these women roll around on their mats, removing tennis shoes and socks and putting their hair in ponytails. I’d say, “Continue to listen to the sound of your breathing, soft “H” sound on the inhale…” as though this was normal, average start of class protocol.

It happened around the time that this mother/daughter team were torturing classes that the studio held a meeting/potluck/getting to know you wherein we sat in a large circle and introduced ourselves. Before we were set loose on the hummus and vegan mayonnaise mango salad we were asked if there were any issues we’d like to address.

I thought this was the perfect time to lodge my complaint with a very reasonable solution. I gave a Reader’s Digest version of these ladies’ shenanigans and suggested that we make a very nice sign covering the basics of studio etiquette. For instance, it might say…

If you are late to class, please enter quietly….

If you must leave class early, please exit quietly….

Please remove your shoes before entering the practice space….

I had no way to foresee how egregious this recommendation would be. Following my monologue, it was suggested to me whilst still sitting in this large circle, that if I was having experiences of people disrupting classes I was teaching it might be that I was entertaining disruptive thoughts prior to class and the real solution to this quandary might be to sit in my car before class and think pleasant, uplifted and non-disruptive thoughts so I could manifest a tranquil and peaceful environment in which to guide yoga classes.

“What?” I think, with the late afternoon sun shining through the window onto my perplexed face. Even while I wonder where in the hell I might have sounded unreasonable, I consider the possibility of being in a sequel to The Secret and then, I notice that none of the other yoga teachers are making eye contact with me.

Having dispatched my problem, the same question is asked again,”Is there anything else we would like to bring up or address?” There are a whole bunch of yoga teachers looking at the floor, undoubtedly manifesting thoughts of warm lentils and glitter.

As it was, by the time we got to the food the lentils were, in fact, cold. It is fortunate that I like cold lentils. Those ladies eventually quit going to yoga classes, but it wasn’t because of anything I said. I think, if I had that race to run over again, I would say something to them. I’d say something very nice, like, “If you’re running late, please come on in, but wait until opening meditation is over so you don’t startle everyone.”

This is the most reasonable way, I think, given that you can clearly see into the studio through two observation windows and a glass door! I would also contemplate tranquil scenes and up-lifting thoughts, just to cover all of my bases.