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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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?

 

Like Buttah

“The Buddha’s message was simple yet profound. Neither a life of self- indulgence, nor one of self-mortification can bring happiness. Only a middle path, avoiding these two extremes, leads to peace of mind, wisdom, and complete liberation from the dissatisfaction of life.” ~Bhante Gunaratana (from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness”)

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about practice. My schedule at the yoga center is changing in February. I am going down to one day a week at Uru and will continue to teach my regular schedule at Chip’s. I spent no little time hunched over my journal while I made this decision. In the course of personal essays written in mostly illegible script I noted that spiritual practice and discipline are kinda like the process of making ghee.

Ghee, clarified butter, is a main ingredient in the 10 Day Yoga Detox we do three times a year in Kashi Atlanta. It’s a very dignified process by which you get to stabilize blood sugar, re-set the metabolism and sort out any habits around which you’d like to bring a little more awareness.

Ghee, as part of the diet, is lauded for its health benefits*. It is golden in color, a little yellow and smells like the backroom of a bakery. Its texture is glossy and slick and it leaves a nice sheen on vegetables. In the morning during the detox we drink it. We only drink it in relatively small portions which grow incrementally during the detox week. Sounds crazy, I know, but with a little almond milk and a dash of ginger powder it’s like liquid birthday cake – almost.

During one of the detoxes last year my slippery hands dropped the ghee jar, whipping most of its content across to kitchen floor. I didn’t know you could just go to the store and buy more so I learned how to make it on the internet.

It’s simple, really. You take a pound of unsalted butter and cook it down for about thirty minutes. It makes this little popping sound that sounds like fat raindrops landing on a low roof. To know if the ghee is ready you have to listen; you can’t look at it and tell. The popping becomes almost inaudible and there comes a point when there’s almost no sound. That’s when you take the pan off the stove and let it cool. There are three layers in the pot when it is cooled and this is where I started thinking about spiritual practice and in particular the path of yoga as I have experienced it.

The top layer is this frothy foam that you skim off the top. It is called “catch” and in India it’s sometimes mixed with sugar and is a sweet treat. This top layer of ghee that you have to scrape off is like the euphoric phase at the beginning of one’s love affair with yoga. This is the rainbow and unicorn stage, wherein everything is wonderful and happy and if it isn’t you better suppress it until no one is looking, because that shit ain’t yogic.

It is here that it serves us well to remember that unicorns are massive magical creatures with a sharp protrusion from their foreheads. I’m just saying, if you met a unicorn in real life it would probably be a little terrifying, even if it was friendly. Rainbows are often products of stormy weather and are a combination of sunlight and the shadow of a fine mist combined. But still, rainbows and unicorns it is.

It is best to scrape this layer off sooner rather than later but we get caught in thinking that this layer is the product of our efforts, like the rainbow and unicorn phase is where it’s at. This foam is not the goal, it should be scraped off, preferably with a hand strainer.

On the bottom of the ghee pot there are lactose solids. It’s heavy and brown and reminds me of the skillet my great-grandmother used to cook bacon in. She’d save this grease like it was gold to cook everything else with it. Dear Reader, you do not want to save this portion of the ghee making process, just leave it there. Better yet, pour it down the drain.

This heavy sludge at the bottom represents the opposite end of rainbows and unicorns. It is the this shit ain’t working phase of practice. If you have been at it long enough, if you have sat for meditation for more than five minutes ten or so consecutive days in a row you might know what I’m talking about. This is the heaviness, the unworthiness and the same old repetitive thoughts that will fall away if we let them go. The pound of unsalted butter has no problem letting this stuff go. It takes heat and the willingness to stay in the pot, which is why yoga practice and spiritual discipline are referred to as tapas which translates “to burn” or “fiery discipline”.

Between the froth and the sediment is the ghee. To get at it you scrape crap off the top and then, carefully, pour the clarified butter into a nice container. You have to angle the pot and hold your mouth a little crooked to keep from pouring any of the sediment into the pretty little jar with your clarified butter. With a little practice you’ll get the hang of it.

I think this is the part that represents the real, essential being. The space in the middle is buoyed above the featureless solid hunks that we think is who we really are. I thought about listing examples but decided to let you fill in the blank with anything that holds your heart down or keeps it closed. That’s the stuff that can go to the bottom of the pot. Your only job is to cook it long enough and then, when it is boiled down, to let it go.

I think we spend a lot of the first years of a spiritual discipline focusing between these two phases. There comes a time when, perhaps for just a second, we catch a glimpse of space between thoughts. The first handful of times I heard my Teacher talking about the space between thoughts I didn’t quite understand what she was talking about. After a few years of looking for that space I have come to think of that as an access point to our smooth, golden essence revealed from the heat of our discipline and devotion.

I don’t think we need to torment ourselves for being in one space or another, either. If I am stuck in a sunshine and lollipop stage I just try to remember that it isn’t the goal and to just keep practicing. When I’m happy I must practice. When I’m sad, pissed, confused or elated also I must practice. I think this is how we arrive at clarity and taste the space between thoughts – which is delicious, like buttah.

“This atman (Self), resplendent and pure, whom the sinless sannyasins behold residing within the body, is attained by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge and continence.”  – Mundaka Upanishad

*From the Yoga Detox Daily Email – 10 health benefits of ghee

  1. Flushes old bile from the body.
  2. Stimulates the liver to make new bile, so 94% of old toxic bile is not re-absorbed.
  3. Scrubs the intestines of toxins and bad bugs.
  4. Supports the primary source of energy and immunity for the cells of the gut.
  5. Supports the health of the beneficial bacteria in the gut that make butyrate, a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) that the intestinal tract thrives on, as it helps to protect the integrity of the gut wall, and then some!
  6. Lubricates and softens the hardened tissues of the body.
  7. Pulls stored fat-soluble toxins and molecules of emotion out of the body.
  8. Encourages fat metabolism and weight loss.
  9. Supports stable mood and energy levels.
  10. Supports the body’s natural defense mechanisms against bad bacteria and overgrowth.

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)

The Seat of the Yogi

In my mind Not Yoga is its own genre in the blogosphere. I have a friend who just discussed wanting to write in the Not Yoga genre, though the Yoga genre is also nice. Her idea got me thinking. Of course I like to write about yoga, but when ya’ll aren’t looking I also write about Not Yoga. I do longhand writing practice to stir up ideas and muddy the waters in my mind so it’ll eventually run clear. I work on my novel.

I had a wing-back chair about ten years ago, but it was actually my writing chair. It was the color of dandelion petals with a broad back like every girls’ first crush. This chair sat on graceful wooden legs and had a nice thick cushion. There were tiny scratch marks that ran vertically on both armrests from my cats gaining purchase when they tried to join me in my work.

This was the era of Pixie and Merry Weather. Those two cats watched me finish two novels, a collection of short stories and no few poems. Pixie was a black Manx with a personality disorder who I love dearly. She had green eyes set in her wide fluffy face. She was missing one fang from the time she attacked the bulldog. I called her Rambo because she drew first blood.

Merry Weather was the softest being I ever felt. She had an aura like golden cashmere draped across my arms. Her fur had a downy quality that billowed in the softest exhalation near her body. Her blue eyes stared like topaz excavated from a King’s tomb. She was beautiful and sweet and ancient when she died. I still miss her.

I miss that damn yellow chair, too. During a move nearly nine years ago my writing chair got put in the back of the garage. It ended up in the we’ll do something with this later pile. I was at work and so couldn’t tell anyone to put it in my room, for heaven’s sake, if I were ever to get any work done.

It is unfortunate that the we’ll do something with this later pile was in the back of the garage. Nothing ever got done with it. A year and a half ago we moved out of that house and that chair didn’t make it out alive. There was something in the way the thick cushion was discolored in such a way that prevented me from wanting to sit on it. There was a smell that prevented me from being able to really lean back into it or want to go near it.

I have made due. I didn’t really think I missed that chair except for when it came up in a memory during which I was thinking of someone or something else. I have been able to get work done since that chair and I parted ways. In fact, I began working on the floor at a table made just for little ‘ole me. It was measured to the perfect height for writing practice on the floor. It is also the perfect height for me to use as a tea table during meditation practice.

Last night there were tornadoes in my area. Living in the south, I’m not really sure what you call what happened here last night. I know hurricanes and squalls and thunder storms like nobody’s business. Tornadoes are something entirely different.

Not one born with strong nerves to begin with, after looking at the weather radar the night before these storms hit I cleared sitting space in a walk-in closet for me, the cats and my mom’s rotten little dog (mom is safely in Colorado for the week, skiing the slopes). The new cat contingent is remarkable, I should add, though they are unseasoned as far as writer cats go. They have not seen me complete one long work of fiction, though to their credit they’ve watched me finish more than a few malas.

The storms started whipping the skies with noise like a bad metal band. We were in the front room when these new sounds started, and so me, the cats – and my little dog, too – move into the back of the house. I’m not really ready to sit in the closet. It doesn’t feel like closet weather yet.

I have enough books and writing materials to keep me busy for the better part of next week but I do not know where to sit with it all. I do not want to get in bed as the headboard is in front of a large window. I do not want to get in the tub, the curve is terrible on the lumbar spine. I don’t want to sit on the floor yet because I already do plenty of that.

Alas, there is a wing-back chair beside the door that is now closed. I do not know from whence this chair comes as it is one of my mother’s salvage finds. It is pink with a moderately broad back, little wooden legs and a comfortable seat. I cover it with a flannel fitted sheet with a Christmas pattern on it.

I sit down. I have my security blanket (you know you have one, too) and a large book on my lap. I cross my legs and settle in just like I have always had a wing-back chair to catch me when I fall. I nestle to the right, just a bit, so my shoulder blade presses against the corner like a hen settling comfortably in her roost.

For a moment I forget the howling wind and remember every time I sat in my favorite chair. The memory floods my mind in an instant as though that entire part of my life flashes  before my eyes.

When the tornadoes did everything terrible they came to do and I retired to my own room my current working chair hurt my back a little more than usual. It felt a little too high and a little too narrow. The cushion was less forgiving and the word count goal for the day was hard won.

That wing-back chair is in my room now. It’s on loan until I find one for myself. I’m sitting in it right now, in fact, composing this endless missive to you. I am leaning just a bit to the right with my legs crossed like Aladdin riding his magic carpet.

Earlier when I said that I was going to write in the Not Yoga genre I lied a little bit. I have to sneak a little bit in here at the end because it fits so nicely. You see, since one’s seat is so important we’re going to be talking about it tomorrow in both of my classes. Of course, I’ll be talking about sitting in meditation, where the magic happens. I hope you can make it.

As for now, I’m going to try to make magic of a different sort happen, the sort that dreams are made of – hard won word counts and wild ideas.