New Moon Resolution

How have ya’ll been doing with the daily downward facing dog practice? I’ve got something cool cooked up for us to try next month, but stay with the daily posture practice, even if you vary it a little. Maybe spend some time in puppy pose or child’s pose as variations.

On the topic if daily practice, I cannot help but think about to-do lists. I don’t know if you’re into that sort of thing, but I am. I don’t try to be, but I find myself with my pastel colored index card writing out a pretty little list of stuff I want to do that day. Not only that, but what needs to get done that day.

Look, I’m not putting “go to work” on this list, because that’s a given. So is “go teach that class” and “stop by Target for cat litter”. I have all the major bases covered. What I have to itemize are the things that will fall through the cracks on me when I’m not looking.

Sometimes it feels ridiculous, the things I put on this index card. Sometimes it feels so important that I get to all of it. When I inevitably don’t get to everything it is such a major letdown that I double up on the items for tomorrow’s list, because that is a helpful remedy for time constraints and one’s sense of self efficacy, right?

I’ve been feeling a little pinched for time lately, and for no reason. I don’t have a nine to five job *whew!* and I don’t have children. What I do have is an incredibly flighty mind, a few social media accounts and no little talent for online shopping.

We have the new moon upon us Monday evening. The new moon invites us to practice restoration, withdrawal from the busy-ness of our daily grind, the ability to look at what is working in our lives and what is not and to make resolutions accordingly from the clarity we find in meditation and silent reflection.

This is a time to plant seeds, too. What do you want to watch grow over the coming weeks? Where do you want to invest your energy and attention? These are powerful questions when asked with consciousness because we answer these questions every day sometimes with a great lack of awareness.

In what do you want to invest your energy? In what way do you want to direct your Prana?

Well, I for one don’t want to invest myself in the vast wasteland of my imagined plans. I don’t want to sap my strength for real expression by running on the rodent wheel of to-do lists laid to waste by the unexpected turns of life, weariness or varying priorities. I might have had “write a blog post” on my list for yesterday, but if a friend sent me a mala to be repaired maybe I’ll choose to work on that, instead. It is not a waste of energy, just re-direction. The waste of energy is in the regret of an un-checked off list; in reality, the list is mutable. It is the mind that makes it rigid.

By some divine inspiration, I am certain, I was inspired to work with the concept of a to-do list on this New Moon in Aries. Aries, a fresh fiery sign already associated with the Spring, it’d be easy to ride the coattails of this energy and make bigger, better faster to-do lists for these longer, brighter days. Ruled by Mars, Aries energy could make it easier to use these lists and aspirations as a road to ruination. How many times have I beaten myself up over (as yet) unfulfilled dreams or poorly planned good intentions? Let’s use the spark of this sign to energize our focus on where we DO want to invest our sacred energy.

So instead of getting all “tasky” on myself at the height of my frustration with my inability to get anything done (though, in truth dear Reader, I get plenty done) I decided to turn the art of task listing on its ass.

I made a do-not-do list. You are welcome to join me.

I started by asking myself what is the project on which I wish to spend the most time. The answer is a writing project. I finished the first leg of it and am now in the perilous land of reading what I have completed – all nine hundred and seventy two pages of it (it’s not really that long, but, you know…) Essentially I have a push you pull me relationship with the love of my creative life.

So, I figured out where I don’t spend my time. So what in the hell am I doing when I am seated in my writing chair with the computer on? Come one…one more guess…

Yup. Internetting. Flipping channels between Instagram (@electricmala) facebook and ye ‘ole gmail – for no good reason. Also, amazon, because I wanted to see what kind of coin belts they have for belly dancing. I might also need a cross-body pouch for all of my outdoor activities (of which there are none). There is a new moon oracle that is back in stock from an indie publisher….

You see how this goes.

Instead torturing myself with stuff I need to get done and then doing things that are the opposite of that, I have made a New Moon in Aries resolution to not make a to-do list (for at least these two days ripe with new moon energy). I’d like to see what I gravitate towards and where I invest my energy without the guilt of a looming index card of shame.

There is no cajoling myself towards one project when I feel pulled towards something else. I might color, or read Outlander’s most recent installment – Drums of Autumn – perhaps I’ll write that blog post or practice yoga outside. I might drink coffee and think quietly to myself – which is quite the new moon activity to do.

On the other side of this New Moon Resolution is a certain level of restraint. The moon is a powerful symbol of time and presents a fantastic reflection for working with one’s relationship with time. As I admitted, I waste a lot of time internetting, pointlessly so. If I need new shoes or yoga pants I don’t take five hours in the mall shopping for them so why in the hell does it take so much longer on the internet?

So, in addition to not making a list or itemizing my activities in an effort to legitimize my existence, also, there will be no internetting.

“Ah ha! Prana Devi!” You might say, “I caught you! Already internetting! Are you not in the internet writing this blog post right now?”

That’s right, you caught me. I am, in fact, on the internet right now. But I am writing – a perfectly honorable and important endeavor to my sense of fulfillment as a human being. I am not, however, trolling zappos to see what Patagonia might have in the way of slinky sandals appropriate for drum circle dancing at the beach.

Let me tell you something, the seductive glow of the information screen has a way of shifting your perception of time. I think it also changes cognitive function and our ability to focus, which has everything to do with one’s ability to get things done, feel good about oneself and, also, reflect on the moon, which is of the utmost importance in our fast-paced daily grind.

So, even for a few minutes, stand still and watch your breathing. In the very least, instead of thinking of everything you ought to be doing, take a moment and appreciate all that you have done. Itemize each accomplishment, large and small, over the last day, week or month. Give yourself three minutes in this space and see how differently you feel from the gratitude that wells up. And know that even though from the outside it might not look like time well spent, time not wasted in unwarranted urgency is priceless.

 

 

 

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Moon Hand Sun Hand

On Friday I went to Atlanta for a workshop called The Yogic Teachings of the Moon. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

We may have been learning about the cooling light of the moon, but my Swami was on fire all weekend. She walked in Friday night with Shakti blazing and it was all Celestial from there. I wouldn’t begin to give a synopsis of the teachings, so this isn’t what the post is about. It’s about left and right, my friend, and my relationship with it.

The right side of the body is associated with the sun, brilliance, intellect and the masculine. The left side of the body is the moon, creativity, and the feminine. There are pranayama (breath practices) one can use to bring the left and right sides of the brain into harmony, so neither dominates the other. This leads to a stillness in the mind that helps us enter into deeper states of quiet and meditation. It is a point of balance so brilliant and illuminating that it is comparable to the sun and the moon.

I often think of the left and right side of the body, being a yoga instructor I deal in one side at a time. I am also intrigued with handed-ness. I quickly notice if I am dealing with a left handed person; one of my managers at the restaurant, the tattoo guy who put Bastet on my leg, the students at Uru Yoga and Beyond who sign their name on the clip-board, having to turn their bodies just so to the negotiate the pen on the straight line.

As a kid, my first urges to retrieve a Crayon or a fork was with my left hand. At the same time, I had a wonderfully well-meaning great-grandmother who wasn’t having any of that. Her name was Honey and she worked with me all the time. She taught me how to spell and write when I was very young. This is, in part, why I am so advanced to this day. I also credit her with my love of writing and books of all kinds. Granted, this love has sometimes become a bit of an obsession with reading materials, but also it is still a blessing.

While she was teaching me how to write my name and other important things like colors and animals, she insisted that I use my right hand in spite of my left handed tendencies. She was superstitious and believed that left handedness was a sign of witchcraft and other devilry that we didn’t want around. And so, my left hand was abandoned for the more wholesome right hand.

Well, it seems that left handed people are known for their creative brilliance. They are wildly innovative and successful like someone born under the sign of Leo without a single malefic planet buggering their aspirations. This is the left handed person. The right handed person, infinitely more common, is analytical and thinks ‘like the rest of us’.

Here I am, in handedness purgatory. I feel cheated. I am not ambidextrous. If I tried to write something with my left hand the entire appendage would look something like a writhing turtle chewing the eraser end of a pencil. However, there are some things I do like a left handed person, like when I went boxing I stood like someone who’d used their left hand their whole life.

I have often wondered if this little well intended change to my handedness didn’t hinder my ability to fully harness the creativity I feel coursing through me like currents of good ideas grounded too soon, like lightening with poor depth perception. I have wondered if my brain didn’t fire the way it was supposed to and so, I didn’t fire the  way I was meant to.

Last Saturday, after we learned about the Moon and Her Yogic Secrets, me and a whole bunch of ravenous yogis went to an Indian restaurant and ate our weight in delicious food. While I am scooping up some spicy brown sauce I notice the woman across from me eating with her left hand. She is a stroke survivor and now teaches yoga to other stroke survivors. I am compelled to ask, “Were you right handed before your stroke?”

She was right handed before her stroke. I was interested in the process of changing one’s handedness as an adult and due to such an intense circumstance at that. Changing her dominate hand was not a choice but a fierce act of healing. I felt a little ridiculous when I told her about Honey and my obsession with hand dominance in light of her life and death ordeal.

This woman has large brown eyes swimming in smooth, dark skin. Her hair is very short with a shock of white near her hairline, which makes her youthful appearance look very wise.  When asked about her experience, and my reason for asking, the space between us felt very quiet, held  in the silent grasp of her clear gaze.

She moves her food around with the fork as we move into a conversational tone on this topic, other friends nearby chime in here and there. While she is talking to me, I notice her right hand resting tranquilly in her lap. Then she says, “Maybe this change helped you somehow.”

I feel my head turn to the side, like a dog who isn’t sure if its human asked if it needed to go outside or if it wants a treat. She says it again, in a slightly different way, but I just hold my breath in this novel idea’s wake.

What if being forced to use my non-dominate hand during early development was somehow a boon to my thinking processes. Perhaps creativity has flourished in distinct and unprecedented ways because of my superstitious great-grandmother?

Let me tell you something, Reader, this never occurred to me. If I hadn’t been sitting down at the table, I would have had to sit down for a minute under the weight of this implication. What if my effervescent personality, quirks and all, are the product of the way my brain adapted to changing from left to right dominance when I was two? Maybe this is why I am good at mirroring a fitness class when I teach it, perhaps this is the reason you like my writing, I can draw really good horses, I make such fine malas and understand the language of cats.

This was a lesson not in handed-ness but in the thinking mind’s processes and its gravitation towards the negative. I had not even thought there could be a positive to this and so never believed in it.

This year, with the same Swami I just went to see, we are studying the Yoga Sutras. This is the instruction manual for yoga practice, and unlike my previous post I ain’t just talking about downward facing dog. In this text there is a lot of talk about the mind and its ‘fluctuations’. In this study is the invitation to choose one’s thoughts, which I think is a really seductive practice, perhaps even more appealing than floating between handstand and scorpion pose. The ability to choose my thoughts, and recognize that I am not my thoughts, is one of the wildest and most healing benefits of yoga.

I see that I was creating separation between one side of myself and the other; the left and right at odds with each other and my ability to be in the world as my fabulous self hinging on the outcome of this battle. However, if my left handedness and right handedness combined to work on behalf of  the still point between the sun and the moon within me, then I empower that unity by dis-empowering the negative mind.

This is real wild territory. Perhaps uncharted territory, but a landscape that is rich with the potential to be free from the barrage of negative thoughts. This feels like the landscape of the Cosmos, the very same one that spins within each and every heart on the planet, not too hot like the sun and not too cool like the moon, but just perfect as it beats in time to the rhythm of life. Who wouldn’t want to go learn about all of that?

 

Schedule Cha Cha Cha Changes

moon

Seven and one half years ago I decided to each yoga. I remember the cold, bleak December in which I wandered around the house like a sad and forgotten wolf, locked in some cave out of the sunlight. I would put in a fitness DVD and not press play, but instead amble onto something else. I’d make food and eat it then go out for Chinese. I’d make a pot of coffee and drink it all just to help wash the wine down.

This period of time was brief, like any Florida winter. It was cold and dark and I desperately wanted to feel warm and bright. I was waiting on something but unsure as to what it might be. Maybe an agent will want to see my full manuscript, perhaps I will meet a new man.

On a dark night between Christmas and New Year’s Day my mother suggested I could teach yoga classes, like she was trying to find a hobby for an elderly parent. As a longtime student, the idea of teaching slopped across my mind like a dirty water logged mop, “Absolutely not.” I said, and not because the idea didn’t have appeal.

The idea didn’t have grit. Way back then, there was not a YTT (that’s muggle for yoga teacher training) in Pensacola. If I wanted to pull it off the closest school I knew of was in New Orleans. After about a year of this idea scratching against the inside of my skull, I decided to go to teacher training – New Orleans or bust!

On a sunny day in the Spring I was at the yoga studio inquiring about logistics behind this New Orleans training, a mere three hours away. My local instructor and studio owner never got up from her desk, she just swished her hand in front of her face like she was shooing a gnat from her nose and said, “Go meet Laura at Dragonfly. She’s great and just in Fort Walton.” Fort Walton is a much closer forty-five minutes away.

So I go out there and meet my new teacher at Dragonfly Yoga Studies where I learn how to teach yoga. I realize right off that I have no idea what in the hell I’m doing. I am practiced by about seven or so years when the training starts (a person must have a minimum of one year of study to learn to teach at this studio) and I realize how very little I know. I am exhilarated. I soak it all up and realize, about halfway through, that I have potential to be a very good instructor.

I am going to teach all of the yoga all of the time. This is, in fact, going to be my new job. I’d already quit my job at a salon to go to teacher training, serving tables when not busy perfecting my pronunciation of Sanskrit words.

I made all of the vision boards. I bought a tri-fold piece of cardboard that my five year old nephew could stand straight up behind without fear of being seen. I glued snapshots of all sorts of yogic imagery; postures, mala beads, rivers, the logo of my local yoga studios (and the Atlanta ashram, come to think of it) the sun, the moon, and God. Many aspects of God, most especially Shiva and The Mother.

I pasted new age platitudes on these vision boards, four in total though only one is so large as to be tri-fold. I include the all important Do What You Love and Follow Your Heart and Live the Dream and more of the Do What You Love variations. I began teaching yoga classes at Dragonfly the October before I graduated, right about five and a half years ago. I had a new career. I was doing what I loved.

I have taught up to eight classes a week plus workshops in that time, in addition to mentoring other teacher trainees. I still have a day job, which is really a nights and weekends job, that keeps me in plenty of high end cat food and allows me to travel to the Atlanta ashram often enough that half the people think I’m a local. I do some hair at the salon and occasionally a make-over or two.

It is not the busy-ness that has made me withdraw from teaching yoga. That is how I have explained it because that is how I have been able to understand it until, perhaps, this very moment.

I have not been able to explain it to myself, Reader, but maybe I can explain it to you. Teaching for a living made the impersonal something personal. I found it hard to be in the midst of a rapidly changing yoga community, a rapidly expanding yoga community, and remain unattached to my professional life as a teacher.

After five and a half years teaching yoga I realize this is not a business I will ever be able to reply upon for my sole support. At some point this translated into feelings of failure. The business of teaching as I have known it will never be the only thing I do for a living and also  keep the cats in their high end food and luxe treats and, at the same time, afford me to go see Swami as much as I want. That, dear Reader, is all I really want.

I have trimmed my teaching schedule down to one class a week at Uru. I am teaching Kali Natha Yoga, the style of yoga that I study with my Teacher, Swami Jaya Devi, in Atlanta. I am also teaching at Chip’s in Gulf Breeze twice a week. I just sort of opened my hands and let my teaching schedule fall through my fingers and these three classes are all that remained. During the weeks and months leading up to this decision I realized that doing what you love for a living might make you love it less. I learned that doing what you love for a living can make that love conditional.

If I had a nice big class and the stereo worked then that was a good day. Hooray! If two people showed up, one of whom was twenty minutes late to an hour and a half class wherein the stereo played only static and bass, a roach crawled across the floor and I was expected to kill it and the prenatal teacher popped her head in during savasana to complain about the air-conditioner, then I just wanted to crawl out of my skin and put in my notice. On more than one occasion I wanted to exclaim “I resignate!” in the middle of up-dog to down-dog.

I have learned that teaching yoga is like the moon. A regular teacher cannot burn brightly like the sun all of the time, and I suspect those that do were trained to the teeth and are skilled beyond measure. We are lucky to have those Teachers. For the rest of us, there are times when we must follow the cycles of our own energy and capability into the shade where we can rest and drink deeply of the teachings we so ardently share.

Sometimes teaching is an inspiration to one’s own practice and interactions with students is like seeing a reflection of eternity. Sometimes teaching stretches and teaches the instructor, bringing them face to face with their own tensions, hopes and beliefs about the practice. Sometimes, teaching is draining like a reckoning of the spirit and there isn’t anything left but to withdraw the way the moon, every month, escapes into the inky depths of the night sky.

I intend to teach more in the summer, but in a different approach to the practice of giving instruction. I would like to teach pop-up classes, I would like to sub more to get to know different students and different locations. I would like to teach outside  more, in the park, at the beach (twilight yoga anyone?) and I have even had fantasies about teaching at the library. I have successfully taught classes for fundraising and have my eye on the large space at Pet Supermarket to raise money for the humane society.

For now, I am going to visit my Teacher. I’m going to finish the second draft of my novel and practice – at least a little bit – the art of being rather than doing. I look forward to exploring how this changes and enhances my own practice, which I am sure to share with you here, since I’ll have some extra time and evenings at home.

I would like to add that though my love of teaching might seem to wane with my schedule, my devotion to Yoga burns brightly as ever. Besides, who could ever really diagnose devotion but perhaps one whose inner vision was quickened by the very sun? Aside from those few, who can really know another’s heart? And who would dare to say?

moon-2

Insight Meditation Timer

buddha1

I have never considered myself an activist. I wouldn’t know where to start. I know that we are in a time in which action is necessary and important, if only to show that we are awake – or wish to be – and that caring humans are not so last century. I think that showing support – or lack thereof – by how and where we spend our money is a method to induce change. I think that in addition to taking care of each other and making decisions aligned with the good, a daily spiritual practice is of the utmost importance.

Spiritual practice can be a lonely business. It’s not that you need company or that it’s something anyone can do with you, though we can practice together. There’s the cushion at the zendo where we sat around a big square while a sweet nun made the bell to sing, signalling the start of silent practice. We closed our eyes and though it was a room full of people, the work we did was solitary.

After a period of sitting in this square the bell would sing again and we would turn one hundred and eighty degrees to face the white wall behind us. The bell sings and we sit for about half an hour. Still together, still alone.

Satsang is “a sacred gathering” if you ask Google. It’s the folks with whom you study and practice. You ask, “My hip felt pins and needles when we did that pigeon, how was yours?”

“Pins and needles, yeah. Mine too.” Might be a response from a member of your satsang.

“It’s been hard getting to the cushion lately.” Someone might say and there is someone with an answer or, in the least, words of encouragement like, “I experience that too.” So at least you know you’re not alone.

I recently misplaced the kitchen timer I use in my meditation station. I remembered back before iphones were a thing there were the ipod shuffles. The studio owner where I studied in the single digits of the twenty-first century used one of these things for a meditation timer. She would poke at the sleek glassy screen and cue up a bell that would chime us into and out of the timed meditation practice at the end of yoga class.

I remember that five minutes felt interminable, if we went for ten I was crawling out of my skin. Not too many yoga classes that I have been to conclude with a seated practice. If I am honest, I will admit that I don’t include it in classes I teach because of how tense folks can get in that five minutes. It is daunting, dear Reader, to see the abject dismay on a dozen faces who are not in the mood to sit quietly. I can hear their noisy minds, “I didn’t sign up for this! I came for a yoga practice! Why in the hell are we meditating?”

One night while I was looking at my meditation space and feeling quite sick and tired of myself and my nightly fits of resistance, not unlike those early years of sitting at the end of a yoga class, I remembered that meditation timer from those years ago. I pull out the ‘ole sliver of glass that passes for a telephone and find the app without much difficulty; Insight Meditation Timer.

I’m usually late to discovering the things that have been cool for a decade, so I will not be insulted if you think I’m ridiculous for starting to use this thing last week. I sat down and set the timer. I resolve to one of the first practices I brought home from a weekend immersion with Swami; sit for eleven minutes practicing ujjaii pranayama and look for the spaces between thoughts.

A digital bell sings. I close my eyes, rest my hands lightly on my knees and focus on that sacred movement of breath. The stillness rises and falls like waves. There is a moment when I can see a gap in thinking coming closer to me, it washes across my brow then lets in thoughts of what color I should have colored that dragonfly’s wing in the coloring book I got for Christmas. This is how it goes.

The bell chimes neatly and I hold the space another moment longer. I find that this practice fortifies discipline; not to jump right up when the meditation is over but remain for another five breaths. Creak the eyes open and ride the practice out into the space of daily existence. My Teacher calls this the wake of meditation.

When I regard the phone’s reflective surface the Insight Meditation Timer adds an element to my practice I hadn’t really noticed I was missing; companions. The screen shows that 2,365 people just meditated with me, or 3,477 people meditated with me from around the world. Over 5,000 sat in meditation with me last night.

Germany, Australia, Ohio, New York, New Zealand and Florida where I sit in a dimly lit room. I find the number of people meditating in the middle of the night absolutely staggering and inspiring (though it might not be the middle of the night where they are).

Since I began using this meditation timer the daily news has not gotten any better. The upheavals and divisive rhetoric have not diminished  over the last couple of weeks. I will admit, dear Reader, I have been afraid and at the same time deeply discouraged. The challenges grow and I fall into despairing for our wretched and wonderful world. I temporarily forgot, because I was not able to see, the daily efforts on behalf of the good happening all around me.

I believe there are more people than not pursuing the spiritual path and practices, but these people are not on television, they are not sensational or very public. But this is a pervasive practice wherein one little lamp can quietly touch its flame to a wick nearby. I think of this when practice is at the bottom of the to-do list at the end of a mighty long day. When it isn’t simply practice, but an effort on behalf of the good, motivation changes and inspiration arises! Though we might practice in our small corner of the world there are a million plus lamps lighting the darkness one breath at a time.

That thought kinda makes you want to go meditate right now, doesn’t it?

Bad Mentor

I have been thinking of a fun, ongoing theme like a story arc I will use over several months or even a year or more. A few thoughts; My Vegan Year 2017, What Happened When I Quit Watching the News 2017, Teaching Yoga: A Traveler’s Log and finally, The Art of Resignation: How to Quit Your Job with Style in Five Easy Years.

Perhaps it was the renewal for this blog that just came and went through PayPal like a zephyr. My posts have been random with the same being said for readership. The problem with online media is the sheer volume of competition, the noise level and degree of content that it is easy to feel peripheral and inconsequential.

There is another element to this, too. I have not been sharing posts on my social media. I have become curious about what I might write if I were not writing to my yoga students or the community in which I work and teach.

Everyday I think about quitting my teaching post at the yoga studio. When I arrive at the studio I think – this is it, I’ll resign tonight. I don’t have another class in me, I’m not really doing anything, I ought to just try something else. I hear they’re hiring at Navy Federal. The problem with studio classes is the sheer volume of competition, the noise level and degree of content that it is easy to feel peripheral and inconsequential.

I do not feel this way while I am teaching. I feel the complete opposite, actually, like confidence and grace is like vapor that descends from the ceiling and coils through the twisting limbs and into the soft hair-lined nostrils as breath and renewal. While the class is in session the background noise fades and I am able to interact with the beings and energetic bodies of the humans on their mats.

I began teaching yoga five years ago. When I launched myself into this “career” I believed there would come a day in which I woke up, taught yoga and lived my life. My reality is that everyday I try to wake up and live a life that is interspersed with yoga classes that I teach  between other jobs I work.

Someone suggested to me that to be taken seriously as a teacher I ought to quit my job at the restaurant. Though this person has probably put me and that conversation out of their head, I remember it when I am burned out from my schedule and discouraged by the business. I think, Well if I had quit my job I’d be doing better now. 

In reality, if I had quit my job I’d be good and pissed right now, possibly swinging from a pole that is not part of a fitness and personal development curriculum to pay for yoga workshops in Atlanta. I’d split my income between prayer shawls and glitter thongs for roll call on the main stage. Let me tell you something else – I wouldn’t be any less of a yogi for it, either.

When I was young and wanted to write for a living there was always someone who would say, “If you really want to be a writer you should go to New York, that’s where all the writers are.” I consider these two pieces of advice,Quit your job and move to New York, equally inane and ridiculous.

I have found a bridge between professional burnout and a viable career in a saturated fitness trend. I study Kali Natha Yoga in Atlanta and have begun teaching it at the studio in Pensacola. Between teaching a class and waiting in the parking lot to see if anyone is going to show up, there is this practice.

Kali Natha Yoga is a moving meditation, it is the dance of prayer. The instructor practices with the group on his or her mat under the premise that we are all in the practice together with the instructor serving as a guide but also a participant. It’s a devotional practice wherein we might go from an intense standing series to chanting to Lord Hanuman, the monkey general and lord of devotion. One moment the class is practicing fire breath and then the next flowing so sweetly from one pose to another we are like little leaves riding the surface of a river.

I have no intention of quitting any of the several jobs I have so that I can prove to anyone that I am worthy of teaching yoga. I have learned that worthiness can be a tool of the ego used to sabotage the most well intended folks. I believe that teaching yoga is a Grace that is palpable once we get around the business side of it and the busy-ness side of it. For this I am a questionable mentor to future yoga teachers. If asked, I would say, do not try to teach for a living, teach for transformation. Teach yoga to make an effort on behalf of the good, teach yoga to reach yourself. Guide classes to light your path and follow someone who knows what in the hell they’re doing. Once you start you can’t stop, though it might not go like you intend. Teaching yoga is like casting spells, it can turn on you in sweet and unexpected ways. The outcome is unpredictable and possibly better than anticipated . I would not have said this five years ago.

My teaching schedule will change again in the new year, though I am not sure in what direction the changes will take place. Perhaps I will add classes or maybe I will shift my schedule around so that I have more time to edit the second draft of my novel. Didn’t I mention that I still plan on a writing career? And I plan on doing it without ever even visiting New York, though with the right book deal I might actually quit my day job.

Jaded Primitive

I am doing a Mary Oliver sadhana (practice). I totally made it up, but I like it. I like Mary Oliver.

I remember being in class with Laura at Dragonfly Yoga Studies, where I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training. I was one of my first few classes with her in late October before the January training began. Class was hard and intense and I believed that if ever there was a human who could help me become an effective yoga teacher, it was Laura.

I felt insulated and regimented in the hour and fifteen minute class, in which she played no music or tried much of anything fancy, just deep and real instruction. I learned to lean into the discipline of the practice and found satiation there, even with the open wound I carried around with me, my heart still tender from a loss.

She read a poem as we went into savasana, which Mukunda Stiles calls relaxation and absorption pose. Typically known as corpse pose, I stretched out on my back and felt the heaviness of my body rest into the Earth. I felt wrung out from the practice, but also lustrous on the inside like I had been polished in some important way.

The poem she read, In Blackwater Woods, tore through me like a million tiny stallions breaking free of their pens. I had never heard of Mary Oliver before that poem cut channels to my heart from the hard rock shaped by life….

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment…

I felt myself crumbling a little bit when she enchanted the poem over us. Then she began to chant some mantra I had never heard in my years of self-study. It rang through the room and burst through my eyes. She walked around smearing essential oil on our heads like a priestess anointing initiates.

…Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

I remember the feeling of her fingers, coated with lavender essential oil, pass through the tracks of my tears. I needed this poem and the poet, too, who took me to the edge of lying down and allowed me to bow deeply to my heart.

It is six years later and I have learned that Mary Oliver is one of the unofficial poets of the yoga community. New teachers come along, fresh like I was when Laura held me in her voice, and are smitten by the imagery of this artist’s work. I began to feel like a cliche, at once moved by something that is old hat to the disenfranchised. I watch new teachers make the same discoveries and wonder how I didn’t see myself, silly and new, falling in love. I sometimes feel the rigormortis of cynicism stiffen my mind that rested so easily in corpse pose those years ago.

The Mary Oliver practice is one I devised to brighten my practice of writing and mindfulness. Her work is one of the mysteries, nature and something primitive the mind isn’t advanced enough to understand. Her poetry silences thoughts not unlike Rumi or Ramprasad, but different.

Since my perspective of teaching yoga has changed in the last few months and so has my perception of my other work, like writing. I finished a longer work of fiction which I am allowing to “rest” as Stephen King suggests in his book “On Writing”. Six weeks is the minimum length of time one should step away from the story before attacking it for the second draft.

I’d just gotten my legs back under me to finish this book, which has absolutely nothing to do with yoga, by the way. I’d hate to lose momentum, especially since it’s so damn hard to gain through the discouragement and loneliness of writing.

The Mary Oliver practice consists of writing a poem a day for 40 days. The poem is inspired by something I encounter that lends itself to a feeling, memory or insight. When you see the moon, dear reader, what do you see in your inner landscape, illuminated? When the band of merry raccoons dance around the pool, who are you reminded of? Make a poem out of this.

A poem a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but try it. It is an art of discipline and creativity which are the ingredients necessary for gaining and maintaining momentum, both of which are necessary for spiritual practice as well as artistic endeavors.

If you would like to practice with me I would love to see some of your work – post your poetry in the comments if you’d like to share. If poetry, observation and writing practice bordering on Zen aren’t your thing, you might like to participate in NaNoWriMo with me this year… but more on that later.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)

Thank You Mr. Sunshine Man

Last Tuesday, I think it was, I was feeling mighty tense in my own skin. The day started hot and got hotter and when I walked out the front door the humid oppression weighed on my shoulders like a drunk I was trying to help into the house.

I was feeling very put upon. You know the feeling, “Why does my life have to be this way? Now I have to stop and get gas, is anything ever going to go right for me in this life?” You know, the typical interior drama of an overheated constitution. This, my friends, is why I don’t regular the hot yoga scene. No one would want to talk to me ever.

This feeling of put upon got piled up on top of other put upon feelings like having to do stuff, like get out of bed, let the dogs out, put sun block on, brush my teeth. Have you ever had a day when everything felt like a chore?

I pull up to the gas station with sense to be grateful I remembered to get gas before the nightmare of a gas station at the foot of the three-mile bridge, which I have to cross to teach my afternoon yoga class. This is also a busy gas station, but the one near my house has plenty of parking and enough folks working the store.

I shuffle around in my car, pull cash out of my wallet and walk across the steaming pavement in flip-flops made of yoga mats. I wait in line behind someone else who looks equally put upon. I try to stand like I don’t have an attitude about everything, though I suspect I fail pretty miserably.

When it’s my turn, the man behind the counter is tinkering with the register. Surprisingly, I’m not in a hurry to rush to another point of put upon-dom, so I wait patiently. I look at him, curious about how yellow his hair is. Everything about him is in the sunny family, and when he looks at me I feel the full effect of his radiance shining upon my own dark and stormy countenance.

This man smiles and turns and looks like he’s glad to see me. I don’t mean in the “customer service” sense in which those of us relegated to customer service must make the customer feel like they’re glad to be seen.

This guy was different. It’s like he wakes up and is so glad to see himself anew that he just shines that on everyone the rest of the day. When he smiled his chest inflated, too, like he was gearing up to laugh or blow the storm clouds off of me with the generosity of his gaze. Then, perhaps, a rainbow might appear.

“Please put twenty dollars on pump six.” I see his eyes move from my own to the orange shirt with a charging, decorated elephant on the front. He looks from my chest to my left arm, where tiny white skulls circle my wrist; a Christmas present from my Teacher two years ago.

“Okay, twenty on six. Have a nice day!” He turns to tinker further with the register, telling it what to do.

When I walk across the still steaming parking lot, I notice I feel much less put upon. In fact, I feel pretty better (the language of a four-year-old that really suits this mood). I pump the gas and get back in my car, but am frozen there.

I feel this urgency, as though something has happened and also there is a small window of opportunity to act on this moment. I felt like I peered into the boundless possibilities of kindness and seeing one another and what that sort of presence can do, how it can change the air around us. I drive into a parking place right in front of the store, retrieve a business card and  go back inside.

I wait behind someone else. I notice they are put upon, too. “I know buddy,” I want to say, “it sucks. But I’m glad to see you.”

When it’s my turn Mr. Sunshine leans on the counter, asking if he’d gotten the right pump. I lean across the counter, too, it must look like we’re flirting. Alas, no.

I say, “No, the gas is fine, you did a good job. But when I walked in here today you smiled at me like you were glad to see me,” for no apparent reason, I wanted to add, but didn’t want to come off maudlin, “and I really needed that today. Here’s a card for a free yoga class with me, I hope you come.”

Ah, that smile again! And now, he’s on the receiving end of something surprising and nice. Then do you know what this guy says? He says, “I knew you were yoga. I saw your bracelets.”

I knew you were yoga. He says. I’ve never had it put to me like that before, and never have I had someone so clearly state the purpose and point of my practice so succinctly. The “doing” drops away and eventually we just are.

Also, I could add that on this day, feeling put upon as I was by everything, I had forgotten that I was yoga until he put that sun shiny smile on me and made me remember.