Vintage Word

If you have not read Night Circus yet, I suggest you put your tablet down and go buy it. Get yourself a nice paperback copy, it feels nice in the hands. Be sure and clear your calendar, you’re not going to be available for a while. When you’re finished, come on back.

I was so enamored with the book that I looked up the author, who is almost as interesting as her work (would that someone would say that about me one day!) and her website does not disappoint. I am curious about authors who have crossed the rainbow bridge into the world of publishing, and in particular the author of Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern.

Because she is a good person, she has a page on her website for aspiring writers. You see, she was an unknown who was published by cold calling agents and editors (le sigh). I’ll have what she’s having, thankyouverymuch. I figure she knows what she’s talking about, even if she is a fly by the seat of your acrobat leotard kinda girl.

In her post on writing she says that she writes on a program called Scrivener. Well, obviously I need that, too. Right? But I have written on Microsoft Word for so long that it stands to reason it’s best not to waste time teaching old dogs new tricks, or more accurately, a sassy nearly middle aged cat who isn’t interested in learning anything new.

I pecked and searched my way through quite a lot of my first draft before my computer broke. It wasn’t sudden, either. I got to watch it wither and wilt with periodic spasms and death rattles. Damn the machine! I was in a frenzy to save this long drawn out document that may one day be my retirement from all of the jobs (except the ones I love, and I’ll leave it up to you to guess which ones they are).

I go get myself a new computer with no little whining about having to learn a new operating system. The worst part, I think, is getting accustomed to the new keyboard. It never feels just right until all of the sudden it does. When that moment arrives, good luck if you have to change again; old dogs and all.

I saved my stuff online with great displeasure. I am dubious of online storage things. My precious work, the words over which I labored and have not yet brought to conclusion, what if it ends up in the wrong hands? What if it is pirated? What if it is somehow spoiled or abducted by sand fleas and made to perform in small tents?

Then it occurred to me that I have plenty of content I put on the internet on purpose and very few people read it. I can’t drive traffic to my blog, and I’m worried someone is gonna go and pirate something I’ve written? Are they somehow going to go and get famous with work I can’t hock for free? Doubtful.

So, I started writing on a word processing program and I actually finished the first draft. I wasn’t happy about the way the word processing program felt, much like the new keyboard. The program didn’t have formatting up to my nearly professional standards (standards which I only discovered moments before my previous computer ceased its operations). This online writing program felt hollow and I knew it was a short term relationship, not unlike a passionate and combustible love affair.

Today that manuscript and how to proceed has rattled around in my mind. How to enter the next phase of editing? The Apollo phase, I like to call it. My nerves can’t take another moment of this online program, it’s too blank and generic. The obvious answer is to do what Erin Morgenstern did – write on Scrivener.

This program is confusing as hell. I’ve tried to learn it in the past and concluded it must be an operator error. There are sticky notes, cork board applications, there are even little digital push pins where you can hang your ideas and stuff. In the event you, Reader, and I have met in real life you know that I only have so much tolerance for fancy technologically advanced stuff and by my estimation there isn’t much more advanced stuff than digital pushpins and internet cork boards unless we’re talking intergalactic travel, in which case that might be more advanced.

I went running back to Microsoft Word. I’m not sure why I waited for so long. It came pre-installed but not activated on this new PC. Maybe I was trying to be different, technologically advanced or a good protege of Erin Morgenstern. But I just now put Word on my computer; it is offline and pretty much just the same as it was on my old, long lost computer. I swear even my keyboard feels better with my characters dancing around on a familiar word processor, not that my characters dance much. I will tell you that they don’t do too much yoga, either. I add this because folks are sometimes under the impression that I must be writing some sort of treatise on yoga or other advanced spirituality themed work of inspirational aphorisms.

Nope. It’s fiction and it’s ready to get the second draft treatment. I feel like someone should start the Rocky theme song. Ding. Ding.

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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!

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

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)

What I Am Reading

Stephen King strongly urges aspiring authors to read as voraciously as they write. Granted, as an aspiring author, I admit being prone to fits of despair around the whole topic of it and wallowing not in productivity but in procrastination. What a waste of talent, I know.

I used to read a lot more than I do now. There are shiny distractions, interactions and general malaise that keeps me from a few of my favorite things. But, because Stephen King has done something I have yet to do, parlay story-telling into an art and career, I figure his advice ought to be heeded. And I’ll tell you something; the man is right – writing comes a little easier if you’re reading good writing.

I travel to Atlanta fairly often. I occupy myself on the drive by paying attention to the road, drinking coffee, listening to Michael Jackson and talking on the phone. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, offers that listening to audio books is the same as reading, if one is reading to be a better writer.

I went to the library (yes, there are still such a thing as those). I took To Kill a Mockingbird and something else I cannot remember to the counter for checkout. I hand over my little library card. It is declined.

I am not kidding.

I feel like I’m standing at the grocery store with a six pack of Miller Lite and a box of Magnums without the money to pay for them, so snarling and dismissive is the expression smeared across the face of this young librarian dressed in mute tones.

“Madam, you are mistaken.” I say. I hand over my card again, certain there are funds left on it.

“You are no longer a residence of this county. We need proof of your address.” She holds my driver’s license between us, proof of my unworthiness. She’d asked to see my license so as to renew my library card, I couldn’t have known I was walking into a trap.

“The devil with you!” I bellow at the quiet library desk where no one pays me the slightest bit of attention.

“I’ll just take these…” she says, sliding my selections across the counter with a sly smile that ejects me from the library of my hometown of nearly twenty years. I watch Harper Lee disappear behind a stack of Harlequin Romances meant for the friends of the library book sale.

I stew and fume and bemoan my lot in life. I do not want to visit the library on the other side of the bridge where I now live. It feels so inner city and downtown and large. The other side of the bridge has always felt like its own country, in the very least a different state.

I drive over the bridge. I drive around the looming, dark civic center and I skirt the edge of the cool part of town. I slide beneath a warm streetlight and park on the rain shiny curb, which feels dangerous and wild. I go into the downtown library. There is a massive marble staircase and a little grand piano.

This place is not unlike the library of my home, not the one from which I was just ejected but the town in Alabama where I grew up. This library is sprawling and wrought iron and new. It feels like the majesty of Scarlet’s mansion, Tara, before the Civil War. There is the smell of books and the long distant fragrance of coffee someone brought in at lunch. Now it is after dark and I am leaving for Atlanta in two days. I don’t have the luxury of admiring everything, I am there for a book on tape – er, CD.

Perhaps the coolest part of this venture, other than that Charlie Brown is on my library card, is that my library card is issued to Prana Devi. On this night, with my new library privileges in a facility far beyond the grandeur and selections of that place from which I was previously excluded most coldly, I check out The Isle of the Sequinned Love Nun by Christopher Moore.

I listen to this book all the way to Atlanta and back again. It is awesome. The narrator is funny and has a voice for each character, even the ladies. I think perhaps the narrator is a little bit crazy and wonder what he looks like. Probably very handsome, if crazy is any indicator.

I find when I get back from my trip my writing impulses start firing. I begin keeping a notebook in the console of my car again, to make notations during stop lights and in parking places. I have ideas and more than anything else, renewed interest.

The next book on tape I check out is The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. I find myself staying in my car extra, sitting in the driveway to get to the end of each chapter. There are three narrators for three different main characters and each is wonderful. I find myself wondering what it might take to be a narrator for books like these.

The third book I borrow is The Secret Magdelene by Ki Longfellow. This is the most remarkable book by far, and I am grateful to be able to listen and not to have to read because there are words and names I wouldn’t know how to pronounce by sight, phonics or no.

And then the CD starts skipping. This is not a book that you can miss a few words in. In fact, this is a book written in such poetic language I had to pause in my listening to make sure my heart’s beat hadn’t become too quiet for the listening.

I took the scratched CDs back to the library and checked out the book instead. I’d heard enough to know how the main characters names are pronounced, anyway. Finally, even while holding this book on my lap, I ordered my very own copy so I could sleep with it on the covers at night and leave hearts and stars in the margins in sky blue ink.

This is my companion for my stay-cation, this book and my cats. For the next two days I don’t plan on leaving my house unless its nice out and I take my mat outside for some poolside yoga. There is a slim possibility I will go for a walk between chapters, writing or reading, I am not sure.

My Thursday classes have substitute teachers who will probably play better music than I do, anyway. I will be home reading.