Category Archives: memoir

Back-to-School Schlepping

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It won’t be long before I miss these days.

Next week would be fine with me.

In typical family fashion, we waited until today to participate in the the oft-avoided subjugation of school supply shopping. I realize I’m a procrastinator. I married a procrastinator, and in turn, we have created three procrastinators. Our dogs are procrastinators, “Never run off with a shoe today, that can wait until tomorrow.”

I lied. We created two procrastinators.

Our youngest, likely because he is so tired of waiting for us to GSD (get shit done) is all about the future; he’s a visionary. He’s been asking to go school-supply shopping since April.

Well, maybe since August.

When I saw those damned school-bus and No. 2 HB pencil yellow signs, those harbingers of schedules, and standing in lines, and raising your hand first swing from the ceiling tiles of my nearest Target in late July, when I was just buying a new swimsuit coverup and a bottle of SPF-600 sunscreen I threw up in my mouth a little. “Back off! We live in Northern Virginia, you schmucks! Not Texas!” I hissed from the express lane check out lane.

We all lament that summer is too short. Lamenting is good for us. It keeps us in yesterdays.

Today, however, the youngest couldn’t wait to hit the streets and get his gear. He knew he had us by the short hairs. Tomorrow school “starts.” (I am so jaded about education these days… )

Because our oldest two are going to be a senior and freshman in high school, respectively, we are old hat at this. We’ve got reams of looseleaf lined paper; drawers filled with loose crayons; another drawer filled with colored pencils; about five pairs of 3″ scissors; several hundred index cards; thread-bound composition notebooks; graph paper; rulers; a dozen pocket folders, both plastic and paper; and at least 37 standard size glue sticks, not including the one my 2-year-old nephew was chewing on last week.

“Once you go through your list and cross off the things we already have, then we will head out. We aren’t going to keep getting stuff we already have; it’s like Amazon.com in there,” I said about our school supply shelf in the playroom as he walked around following me with his school supply list, pointing at it and telling me we needed four dildo large-sized glue sticks.

you tell me what we need here.  i can't make this shit up.

you tell me what we need here. if you recall, i said “cross off” what we already have.
i can’t make this shit up.

So we headed out… initially to Target and then, ultimately Staples (much to my husband’s delight because that makes him right and me wrong, but not really because I just wanted to go to Target to get more coffee, which was NOT on the list, but should be, so I won) and our 7″ scissors, three-subject spiral notebooks, 7-pocket expandable file, 24-count crayon packs, 12-count colored pencils and other things (which are apparently on another list our kid made). We have the checking pens at home. EVERYWHERE. It’s called a pen.

While there, we were among the masses, joining other gray-toned, unenthused, zombie-like adults glancing at the remains of a stationery section cum demilitarized zone. 

Choruses of “I know we already have that, let’s wait until you need it…” were groaned in louder, grainier and deeper response to “Ooh, these pink ball point sparkle pens made just for girls are cool…” sung from the spiral-eyed toe-stepper female-gender identified children.

I wasn’t sure what we needed, given that aforementioned requisition list and its NSA-encrypted WTF connotation system. So I started looking for three-subject spiral notebooks. I knew that was on the list. I cruised over to the school-supply annex nearest the burgeoning Hallowe’en candy which just COULDN’T wait its damned turn and overheard,

“Hey, Mom, let’s get this [Live! Laugh! Love! factory-antiqued woodenesque placard] for me for when I take over Stacy’s room when she moves out….”

“What? When? Stacy isn’t moving out. What are you talking about?” asked Mom who was hunched over and squinting. Trying to discern the value of gender-specific writing instruments. As I traipsed by I breezily threw said, “Last time I checked, Dorothy Parker, Tina Fey, Maureen Dowd and Condoleeza Rice didn’t need a pink pen… Just sayin’…”

The opportunistic daughter said, “You know, for when Stacy heads off to college, I’ll get her room…” She was holding the $30 distressed item next to her face.

Stacy was all of four feet tall. Stacy, as it turns out, was going into fifth grade. I asked the Mom.

There were no three-subject notebooks to be had.

Aside from the coffee, and also NOT on the list, I’d remembered that I wanted eraser pencil toppers. Target didn’t have them. So we bought what I came for, and pushed on to Staples a few miles away.

As we crossed the >swish< of the sliding doors into the store, my husband was in his upper-middle-to-senior management zone, “Step aside hon, I’ve got this… Head straight back and turn left at the middle intersection, go to the end, on the right…”

That, is how that man won my heart, 25 years ago.

I didn’t really care about the glue dildos or the small personal pencil sharpener. I knew those things would be covered the first few weeks of classes. 

I was concerned about the three-subject spiral notebooks. Due to their scarcity at Target, which was already preparing for St. Patrick’s Day, I knew they would be in high demand elsewhere.

We searched in the aisle of the standard spiral notebooks. It was worse than a toothpaste section. There were pink ones, blue ones, ones with tiger stripes, camouflage, leopard prints, Hello Kitty, Batman logos, paper covers or plastic covers. But no three-subject. Plenty of five-subject ones — he can be ambitious I thought; afterall, this “teaching to the test” bullshit is too limited, so I say run boy run (plus I don’t want to come back here again)!

My husband, betraying his manhood, asked for assistance. I was crushed. 

We were so close, just 10 more feet and a hard left at the end-cap. The masses were encroaching however. They must have heard his plea. 

Because we were too focused on getting our gear, we didn’t see other seekers, but we could feel them. We began to hunker down, get a better sight on our quarry and the collective pulse of the seekers’ energy grew. I did manage to look up, just as I saw a stack of the notebooks, and decided to grab three more, because: you never know, AND because the older two boys haven’t told us what they need yet…

But, the notebooks were college ruled.

Fuck it. Get two more! Run!!!

The nice thing about getting out of your house and waiting until the last minute to shop for things is that you bump into old friends. We did do that, but just as we were about to begin the whole, “How have you been? You look great!” conversations amid the lines of people undead in the store we somehow managed to escape (there were at least 15 bodies ahead of us), my husband was summoned to the cash register and I had the notebooks, a new backpack, a specifically blue protractor / compass / calculator combo (did you see those on the list?) and we had to push off.

The cashier attendant offered to put everything in the backpack, “Sure! Save a bag!” said our little guy, and she loaded it up. He was pleased to plop it on his 56″ 75# frame. He said as he squinted from the bright sun (another thing you experience when you get out and not shop online) about his backpack, “This’ll take me through 8th grade at least!”

When we got in the car, my husband said to him, “Hey, buddy, if you catch any static because your notebooks are college ruled, you just tell those teachers, it’s ok, you’ve got big plans…”

“Yeah, that you’re a visionary; that you’re already planning on college…”

After a nanosecond, our son said, “I’ll just tell them there weren’t any others.”

Big plans.

Happy Labor Day. LONG LIVE SUMMER!

Thank you.

Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin

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Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve written extensively here and privately about my experiences in grief. I’ve written about her death two years ago being the final somatic death which followed so many other of her deaths I felt I had grieved over my recent lifetime.

Last night, when going over photos of her, the one below in particular, I wept silently while my husband slept beside me, oblivious and recuperating from a sinus infection.

This photo was taken about six years ago in my parents’ house in Canada. A place we used to joke about having in case there was another military draft. Now it feels like a good idea to hang on to in case Donald Trump becomes president.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

Mimi and the boys, summer 2009.

I wept for many reasons. I feel now / today / this moment and felt during that moment that I weep because I will never have that sweet older lady in my childrens’ lives any more.

She wanted so very much to be present in their lives. She was, in her way. I got in the way. I see that now. I sort of robbed them of her sprite-like ways because I was so hurt by it, her lack of an anchor, as a child. I wanted to protect them from that, but I see now, that by just being their mother, I was protecting them from that. They weren’t going to be with her 24/7, as I was, yet I couldn’t really unplug from those memories, at least not then. I was aware of it too. What I mean by that is that I was aware that I was in the way and yet I wanted to be out of the way, and yet, I wouldn’t be out of the way. I was and am so hell-bent on providing for them a healthy life that I suppose in some ways I’m stifling an unanchored life…? that doesn’t make sense. I sense now that I’m becoming my own judge, jury and executioner. Breathe. 

Mom used to say, “Jesus said to ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ or something like that…” and I’m being a little flip in my treatment of that memory, but she did often say something very similar to that, depending on the tenor of our conversation and her state of mind.

As I wept last night, my throat hardened and tightened and I knew that it was because I was and have been disallowing a truth for almost all my life: that I loved her and needed her so very much and that as much as I wanted to hate the physical incarnation of her addictions: her, I know rationally that doing so limits my exposure to her, even now in her death. So I thought and mostly felt some more (even though it was reeeeeally difficult to feel the feelings) and said to myself, “I do love you, and I always did and I guess I always will, even though I hated how things went down between us.” And my throat softened.

I always have to allow that reality, that caveat (that she was messed up too). I’m not one to paint a dead rose as one in bloom: shit was hard between us. We were each others’ teachers, of this I have no doubt. I am easily able to say now, that I am grateful for her being my mother and that she taught me the most important lesson of all: to get real with yourself, because she had such a hard time doing it herself.

I realize that Mom was an instrument of God for me and my brothers and that her mission was to teach us, in one way or another, about the dangers of addiction and alcoholism. And to live as an example, as harsh as it was (and it was harsh) so that we would be able to break a cycle. So that we would be able to live consciously and as deliberately as possible.

Mom was such that there was no patois of our dynamic, after all, she was an actor and an illustrator. As good as she was at stringing words together, Mom really seemed to fail at times in speaking and writing… it sometimes devolved into a bathos and her notes to me could cut like a backhanded compliment. “It was the booze talking…” I remember her saying one time. In vino, veritas, I would hiss back. In a way, she ended up unduly sacrificing herself for our sobriety. The tenor of our relationship was mostly mistrust, which really … sucked.

If my mom existed so that I could spare my sons an alcoholic mother and hopefully influence their own lifetimes in awareness of alcoholism and their genetic predilection, then her existence and my forgiveness of her is not for nothing. That’s the lesson I feel I’m steeped in right now. That’s where I can step into forgiveness. For me, right now, forgiveness has to be or at least look like a transaction.

I have actually begged for her to appear in my dreams. She does, sometimes.

The current book I’m reading, A Manual for Cleaning Women — Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, is an emissary of sorts for me right now. In it, Berlin writes clearly about alcoholism, witnessing her mother’s and her grandfathers’ own travails and also her own. The shakes and delirium tremens, the self-loathing and mental anguish. Through her, I have a glimpse of my mother’s struggles and demons and I am leaning toward “forgive the drinker, hate the booze.” I suppose I could’ve used this book a few years ago. But it is what it is. Mom and I were as good as we were going to be around the time she died, we’d had several real adult and womanly conversations. Berlin has also made me a little braver in my own writing. Life is too short to have to fear what other people (through their own filters) think of anything I do.

When Mom aged, she softened, as so many of us do. Gone were the harsh and defensive edges of projected self-recrimination and doubt. At least around my kids, they were softened or completely worn away. She still had her self interest, poised above all others, but her kindnesses toward my children were absolutely sincere. In a way I was envious of them, their ability to be so at ease with each other. She had no worries about failing them and they had no fears of not living up to her expectations. It was like a little team of back-patters. I am happy that they all had those moments together.

I recall a day when she wanted to be with us, but logistics made it difficult (or maybe just I did) and so we all played Monopoly with her on the speakerphone. One of the kids would roll dice for her, the other would move her token (usually the thimble) and the other one would deal with her bank (that was usually my oldest son). She just liked being on the other line, hearing us all play together. I remember wishing she’d had an computer or iPad or something so that the boys could play online Scrabble and Pictionary with her; she would have loved it.

The day she died is different from today. Two years ago, it was Labor Day. Everyone in my family was with their own families, no one was alone to have to hear the news. I remember, clear as it happening right now, that when my father called that day, I was on my deck with my husband. I just knew. You know — how you just know? I just knew. Dad’s voice was unsure, but upbeat, like he was calling me to tell me that he’d cracked up my car but that everyone was ok… “Your mother has collapsed in the driveway. She’s in an ambulance now… the officer here wanted me to call you…”

….  ‘Officer…?’ …. 

We went over to their house as soon as we could. I’ll never forget it. The angle of the sun. The heat of the day. The wait in their front hall for an update. Then the update from the officer, “Mary didn’t survive…” and I thought he had the wrong person… “Mary? Who is Mary… ” … “Your mother, I’m sorry… she didn’t survive…”

Oh.

Then the drive to the hospital. And the phone calls and texts to brothers — where was my younger brother?? — and cousins and in-laws and close friends from the back seat of my own car as my husband drove and my father sat, granitic, in the front passenger seat. It was about 4:30pm at that point.

So tonight, I will have another root beer float, as I did that evening when I’d found out she’d died. She was on her way to get one that day. I got mine from the Baskin-Robbins down the street from the hospital. I remember for weeks after that, just telling people that my mother had died. I told my cleaning ladies. I told people I barely knew. I always got a hug for it. The freshness is still there, of that moment. I feel like that’s the greatest gift of being sober and in touch with your feelings: that joy and pain and all the others in between are right there, just beneath the surface teeming to leak out. We should let them every once in a while, it keeps us real. If your mom is still around, give her a hug for me. If she is not, think softly of her for yourself.

Thank you.

Missives from the Mat 14 — After a Year of “Teaching” Yoga

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It’s been more than a year since I started to teach yoga to adults. I am the student, I am realizing.

That said, because I am still and always learning, and quite open to that reality, I have a few things to impart:

People come to yoga for a variety of reasons, but the most frequent one I hear is “stress reduction.” What they don’t understand, or what I think they don’t understand, is that yoga really isn’t what’s reducing their stress, it’s the fact that they are paying attention to the stress in the first place. I say this at risk of throwing away income, of disgruntling fellow yoga instructors, and all the rest, but the fact remains that the first stage of correcting anything is the acceptance that it needs correction.

Granted, if people don’t come to yoga, chances are quite high they’re not doing it on their own. We just aren’t that cool of a civilization.

Want to feel great? Right now? Go ahead and sit or stand up straight. Gaze ahead softly with a gentle focus. Release your jaw and pay attention to any tension in your face, neck, shoulders, belly, hips, thighs, knees and ankles. Just note it. Now take a big deep breath. Slowly let it out. Do it again. And one more time, only on the third time, lift your arms with the breath — you don’t have to go all the way up, just open the chest. As you let out the air, slowly lower the arms. Repeat it a few more times. Now your body is digging this. It will tell you what it wants. Just be sure to connect with your breath…  Breathe with the motion.

Speaking of breath…

Many people don’t like to hear their own breathing. I get this. I used to be that person, the one who would inwardly roll my eyes when the yoga teacher would say, “I want to hear your breath…” but now I realize that maybe that reluctance to hear our own breathing stems from a subconscious hesitancy to actually live as fully as we can. Is it rooted in shyness? Is it rooted in shame? Is it rooted in fear? Self-loathing? Inadequacy?

Whatever the reason, I learned about a year ago, that if my students don’t hear me breathing, then I am DEFINITELY not creating a space where they find their own energetic license to breathe audibly. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten better about the breathing audibly thing and here’s why: IT FEELS GOOD. (It’s also essential as butt for me to come out of an inversion or a forward bend with a massive inhale or I’ll experience super-fast super low blood pressure drops.) So I make a point of it now to say clearly to my students, “Can you hear your own breath?”

I go on… “Welcome the sound of your own vitality; the proof of your life and the connection between the mind and the body. When in doubt, breathe it out.”

WHY WHY WHY??? Because I want people everywhere (including me) to not be afraid. I want you to get to a point where you either key in on a sensual level to the feel and rhythm of your own breath, and just note it; or that you key in audibly to the sound of it… because when we can hear the breath, we know we are transferring energy. Woo-woo alert: We know that we are part of the dance of life, everywhere, and that we are connected. Trees do it silently, yet we know they do it, or we’d be toast. So breathe, people.

It’s “just the little things…” Mini-anxieties related to mini-moves.

One of the aspects of yoga I try hard to share with my students is the awareness of a sensation. The proposition of doing things we are unaccustomed to, even in the most subtle way, and then bridging the awareness emotionally and intellectually with the experience that we’ve survived it practically.

Case in point: I have my students interlace their fingers in a non-native clasp. The first time they do this, they are very thrown off. Resistance presents itself. But they do it anyway, facing the obstacle. These micro-moments of confusion or “different” and even perhaps, anxiety, flood in. Through the breath: calm, a sense of ability to deal and then awareness (or at least my promotion of it) of the breath and the fact that they are “winning” over the emotional / mental moment.

I say to myself, “this too…” as I’m going through it with them. I don’t like the way this feels. But it’s not threatening me, if I breathe through it, I can get through it… and before you know it, we are all releasing back to a native interlace and learning about ourselves… Then a few more rounds for good measure and we are done with that.

The fact is though, every moment in yoga presents a new awareness of our being. How often have I held warrior 2 pose for a minute or more, at the suggestion of my teacher and wanted to punch something? What am I fighting? Why am I forcing myself to do this? Just a few more seconds… transition… Woo-woo alert: what I’m experiencing is the experience. Nothing more, nothing less and the choice is mine to come out whenever I want, but the fact remains, that I know I can stay in it, and I know there is a lesson and new fibers and new neural pathways and all sorts of shit I just can’t see going on inside me that will be really great for me is happening.

I am more at peace with my warrior 2 holds now. I am constantly tweaking them: what’s my back foot doing? How’s the front knee tracking? Am I lifting through the chest? What about my shoulders… are they engaged? Hips too? Release the jaw… breathe… steady gaze… and by the time I’m done that inventory (which happens automatically now for the most part) I’ve got another 20 seconds to “rest” into the pose.

But what if I come out… am I a failure?

Even moments of dismissal — if we pay attention to what we’re dismissing: a feeling, a moment of vulnerability, a sensation of fear, a memory we weren’t expecting… we have a choice: pretend it didn’t happen (which is what a lot of people do, hence anxiety medication prescriptions, but the anxiety never goes away, does it?); simply notice that it happened and leave it there; make note that it happened, and visit it later or not at all; and countless other ways of managing the situation. The point is this though: you’re on the bus. You’re noticing something and now things are in play.

Things are always in play, my friends. That’s the nature of life. As I say to myself, “This is my first June 22, 2015 too… Give me a moment to get the hang of it…” Mistakes will be made. Lessons will be learned.

No. If I come out, I’m not a failure. I’m tired. I’m listening to my body. I’m figuring things out. There’s a reason there are no trophies in yoga.

Yoga teaching for me isn’t about a “peak” pose. It’s about letting my students feel safe knowing that we are here to grow. I’d rather have two students who are on the bus to personal awareness, hearing their own breath, allowing their own breath TO BE heard by others, than a room full of people who can hold a handstand, or crow pose, or scorpion (even though that’s my goal pose) for six days. I am a firm believer that there is NO SINGULAR POSE that makes you a better more self-aware person than anyone else.

I have a Facebook friend who told me of a memory about growing up with Deepak Chopra. This person told me that Deepak was once at the high school cafeteria table debating with another student about who was more spiritual than the other. “I am more spiritual than you are,” Deepak was overheard saying. I laughed my gluteus off.

I prompt people. A lot.

Here’s what you will get out of a class with me: a reminder to let go of things not only with the mind, but also with the body. I’m big into reminders to release the jaw and the space between the eyebrows. (I’m doing it now as I type.) To listen for the breath (what is it with me and all this breathing??). To feel the chest open. To feel the back expand. To take in one more heartbeat’s worth of air. To hold a pose for one more heartbeat longer. To protect the joints: make sure the glutes and quads are flexed. Just bringing awareness to sensations in the body is about 90% of a good yoga class.

Lots of people think yoga poses are just about making pretzels out of your body… dude, you couldn’t be more wrong. At least in my class. Some of the most basic poses — standing up! — are designed for you to check in and contract your muscles. You’re not just standing there like Homer Simpson: stuff is going on. Then we stand with consciousness for half a minute. Feel that… what’s slipping? What in your body are you letting go? Do another scan… bring it back to the breath…

I say all these things to my students BECAUSE I KNOW it’s slipping in me. You can’t be a hypocrite and be a good yoga teacher. Truth comes out, it always does.

When I prompt in a stretch that we reach for the sky, I’m taking it further: reach for a cloud, higher. I use lots of visual cues in class because I’m a visual person, but also because I want people to “get there.” So often people reach with closed hands… NO! Splay your fingertips, spread open the palms… LIVE! Grasp! Reach! Send energy through the fingertips! Let it go!

Even though what I teach is what I would consider a gentler form of yoga (I like to call it “sloGa”), it’s not easy. I spent a long time of my life rushing, not feeling, getting stuff done and moving to the next thing. In my yoga classes, I have fully embraced the art of slowing down, connecting with the breath and the body, and listening to the body. When we do cat / cow pose, I tell my students to take it slow, to feel the discs separate and lubricate the spine and to let the abdomen drop as the throat opens… and to LISTEN: when your body says “I hate this” you simply affirm it and then act. You can come out or you can stay in… but in the meantime… what’s the lesson here that my awareness [of my sensation] is teaching me? This should be no big deal…  Where does this hurt? What is my body trying to tell me? 

Maybe I talk too much. No one has ever said so though. Part of the reason I talk about the poses is because I’m really into them and I hope to encourage my students to be into them too.

So here’s an alternative to all the introspection on pain. Just as going into a pose requires consciousness and awareness and listening to your body, so does coming out. So it would stand: if you feel pain, pay attention. Conversely: if you feel joy or release, WHY?! What is your body trying to tell you? What is WORKING? This is the part that bugs me a little bit about yoga. Yes, we all have pains, but we also all have joys and pleasures and frankly, let’s promote them too! We are what we think about.

Emotions come up.

Emotions can come to the surface in a yoga class. I don’t mean just the heavy ones. I sometimes find myself in the middle of tree pose (vrkasana) suppressing a giggle. I think about Joyce Kilmer and the fact that I thought the poet who wrote about trees is a dude, not a chick. Go figure.

In eagle pose (garudasana), I’m a mess. I call it “laughing bird” because while I find the pose absolutely challenging, it also reminds me of not being able to laugh in church because you’re not supposed to laugh at church. When I teach this pose to my class, I tell them to squeeze their thighs together (and if the thought “like you’re holding back pee while in line at a Bruce Springsteen concert” comes to mind, that’s on them).

In chair pose (utkatasana) I call it the “regatta bathroom” pose when I work with rowers and “public bathroom pose” every once in a while if the mood suits me. You have to be careful about bathroom humor when you’re dealing with different students and settings.

In warrior 2 (virabadrasana ii), I tend to identify with feeling like a badass, because that pose is so empowering. I remember from my youth, the silhouette of women in the Charlie’s Angels opening credits. Warrior 2… let’s do this.

All too often though, I think people think yoga is this place where we just sit and “experience” and “feel” and “be one” and all that. While I absolutely hope those ideas and concepts come into peoples’ minds, I’d be a blame fool if I thought that was all they thought about AND all they “needed” to hear. Life’s too short, man. Lighten up.

In cow face pose (gomukhasana) I just laugh because, um… this resembles a cow’s face, how?

The thing is — we have these feelings come up because we are still. If we’re constantly rushing, there is no feeing of anything. That’s why people who rush all about the place, REEEEEEEAAALLLLY need yoga. Hence, me on the mat.

That said, everyone has one. The hated pose. The pose that makes then learn. The pose that threatens to shatter their carefully shaped image of self control and composure. The one that reminds us of our humanity.

I hate camel pose. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. For starters, you begin on your knees. Talk about supplication. Then you end up with your chest opened, your back bending, thighs stretching and pressing to what’s in front of you, shoulders reaching for each other, hands resting on blocks or ankles behind you, beside your feet, and then your head is back, if that’s good for you. You can’t see what’s coming. And then you’re supposed to just … “let go…” ??!?

So if you’re in a protected space, like where I teach: I can lock the doors and attempt to bring the psychic energy down in the room to a nice grounded place (but that’s up to the people really), it should feel like it’s no big deal. Only for me, it’s not. Something releases in me emotionally, and no matter how hard I’ve tried to keep it together, I end up weeping in camel pose. I can’t really stop the thoughts or memories or people who flood my consciousness. I try to connect with the breath. I try to be “open hearted” as the pose so clearly suggests. But it’s all about trust. Camel pose is all about trust. So I continue to learn…

Ustrasana - camel pose. I don't know why they call it camel. Maybe things were all on their sides back in the days when yoga was invented...

Ustrasana – camel pose. I don’t know why they call it camel. Maybe things were all on their sides back in the days when yoga was invented… Upon further inspection, I have noticed that I did not completely let go in this pose; I didn’t let my head drop all the way back. Hmm. But in the first one of the series for the photos, I did. The angle was off so I didn’t include it.  

After I did camel maybe 10 times for this post, I will submit that I didn’t get emotional. For some reason, trying to get the angle and the lighting “right” which was a nice “distraction.” What’s the opposite pose of this? For me: child’s pose.

But the feelings do come up. What came up after I finished all that? Relief. So I wonder why.

I also don’t know if it’s a good idea to constantly push one’s self to do things which bring up feelings that we’re not really ready to face. There is never any shame coming out of a pose. Even in my restorative classes, which I teach once at the mid-point and again at the end of the sessions in my classes, people can feel vulnerable and fearful. That’s much more common, paradoxically, because we are really being still. Not just for another 15 seconds, or five more breaths, but until I remind my students to deeply breathe in and prepare to transition into the next restorative pose, which I encourage them to hold for seven minutes.

I’ve seen people change over the year. I’ve seen balance and upper body strength improve. I’ve seen anxiety drop and confidence build. Smiles come easier and slower and softer. They tell me they hear me in their heads, “belly buttons in toward the spine, nice tall back…” I hear my own teachers tell us the same. This stuff sinks in, slowly if you let it. That’s what is super rewarding: that it works when you work it.

Boundaries.

I have learned to say no. I have learned that it’s ok and it doesn’t make me a crappy teacher if I don’t let someone dump all over me, either in private life or in yoga teacher life. And that it doesn’t make me a crappy teacher with shitty boundaries if I DO let people share and dump on me. The choice at the end of it all, always exists. I can live with that person’s story and wear it as my own, or I can place it where it belongs: in a compassionate place where I can hold that person’s personal and separate story as it is. Not mine and not shared with the intent to encumber. Yoga teachers who do have shitty boundaries, I’ve come to believe, have them because they want to be liked and loved and needed. I am OK with that now. Yoga is the thing I can give to other people; as in all aspects of life: people don’t have to take it, and no one is a bad person.

Final thought so far: I have become my own brand of teacher. I no longer wonder too deeply or too often if I’m any good at this, or if students prefer other teachers to me, or if I am doing something “wrong.” I don’t other trying to be like another teacher, and it’s so completely liberating. I read a lot and watch lots of videos and experiment with movements, sometimes right on the fly, to be a stronger version of me as a teacher. I watch and try to retain what I do like about other teachers instead of what I don’t like. 

Because I am ok with being who I am as a teacher now, I really have no clue if my students go nearly as deeply as I encourage them to go. I know though, thanks to feedback and kindnesses that the yoga is making a difference. I need to be better about taking compliments. I minimize a compliment when it’s given. I’ve been introduced to people by students as “My favorite yoga teacher” and “the best yoga teacher” and I say a quick “thank you” internally and then I blush and say, “I’m your ONLY yoga teacher…” but the fact is that I need to be kinder to myself and take the compliment.

To all my students, past and present, thanks for trusting me. Namaste.

Thank you.

On Wearables, Lightness and Being

Standard

On Mother’s Day, my family presented me with a FitBit. It wasn’t by mistake or without some semblance of open communication.

I bought one for my husband, the HR Charge, on Good Friday (it just happened to work out that way; it’s also the only way I remember how long he’s had it). He had been angling for one, wasn’t sure which one he wanted, was starting to feel concerned about his health (due to colleagues suffering heart attacks or strokes within the previous six months) and I think he was ambivalent about spending the money to get one, seeing as how they’re pricey. To me, health is priceless, so I bought him one, put it on hold at a nearby retailer and he offered to swing by and get it on the way home from work.

He loved it almost instantly. The biofeedback was amazing data to him.

I loved that it had an alarm. That it would wake him subtly in the morning by vibrating on his wrist.

I do not wake well. I do not like to wake up. I am a night owl. Either I was born that way or I was conditioned to live that way. My mother was a night owl, and I spent a better part of my nascent life wondering and being concerned about her health and meanderings, the clanging of pots and pans, the shuffling of furniture and papers, the seeking of things, I guess habits can develop. But the thing is, I LOVE SLEEP.

So I was really drawn to that aspect, that a device one can wear will vibrate and wake us.

So I unwrapped the rectangular box, with a bit of intel as to what was inside, and stared at it.

You are the enemy. I thought to myself.

You are going to make me change. I thought to myself.

My husband, who is such a sweetheart, really, knows I’m apprehensive about these things.

I live a busy life, I thought to myself, my face contorting, like an ape at the box. I wanted to stomp on it like that chimpanzee from the American Tourister ads of the 70s:

Reluctantly, I put it on.

On Monday, the next day, I found myself resisting it. I didn’t like that I was being “tracked.” I felt it was an invasion of my privacy.

You don’t have to wear it, I thought to myself.

I found all sorts of reasons to NOT LIKE the aspect of this device on my wrist. That said, I bought an app to have it synch up with my iPhone because I like things all in one place. (Yes, I get that I said I don’t like being tracked and owning an iPhone…)

Mindfulness and personal responsibility — the data is there; it’s really an “in your face” or “on your wrist” accountability device.

By Thursday, I started to settle in. I used it to track my sleep (I suggest not setting it to “sensitive” because the non-sleep data will depress you) and I found it to be informative.

I started to want to win against the device. Get in my 10,000 steps (which is a lot of freaking walking, my friends) earlier each day. I wanted to WAKE with 10,000 steps. Be done with it. Eat THAT, FitBit!

By Saturday (six days in), I decided I would set the alarm to wake me. It being a late soccer match day and no demands which I could royally screw up by not waking on time, made the most sense.

I set it for 8:15 (okay… 8:45) Saturday morning with a snooze option for 5 minutes.

“mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm … … … mmm mmm mmm ….” and repeat a two more times on the thinnest of skin.

Oh. That is nice.

The snooze happens as a default. Five minutes later.

“mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm … … … mmm mmm mmm ….” two more times.

Half waiting to see if it would do it again, because to me “snooze” means y’know, bugging me, I laid there, wondering and fully awake.

No.

It didn’t go on again. It abandoned me.

I felt (honestly) as though I’d let it down. As though it were a cat that needed to be fed. Or a dog, which needed a walk. All that’s missing, to me, I thought, was the sound of pee accumulating in a puddle outside my bed, and then I’d be the hell up and out of bed in the freakin’ heartbeat. 

So I have it do its little Salome dance at 7am on weekdays, as a nice gesture of “I see you, FitBit” and what I’ve done now, is have it set at 9:30 nightly, to remind me that it’s getting late and that the process of going to bed, if I want to wake up better, should begin.

It does make me mindful, this little device, of how I’m choosing to spend my day and how I’m choosing to affect my health. I don’t enter all the data about water and food and when I’m beginning an “exercise” moment. I figure that’s stupid — it can tell when I’m at a fast pace or just moseying (which is an ambition, frankly, to mosey).

Now if there were an exterior monitor for telling me “You’re yelling a lot today” (other than my dogs hiding) or “maybe you turn on some music and chill out” (other than my kids retreating) or “I see that laundry piling up too, let’s get on it…” then we might be on to something.

That monitor is me, and it always has been. That’s the hard part.

However, it’s a nice tool. I’d be a lying liar who lies if I told you: the FitBit is not spilling into other aspects of my consciousness. I wonder if that’s a positive outcome of the device or simply a logical construct of who I am — I’m open minded and am seeking mindfulness and enlightenment and accountability.

What I would LIKE, is a better looking bracelet. It’s totally ugly. It reminds me of a house arrest device. I would like someone out there who works with metal to create a band with crystals and other cool rocks to make this more into jewelry and less Orwellian looking.

So I’m walking the dogs a lot more than I used to to hit my goal. I used to walk them the distance I have always taken them (2.7 miles) a few times a week. Now the poor bastards are going every day. I’m spending less time writing (clearly). I’m spending more time meditating on those walks, listening to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance on my iPhone which tracks me a hell of a lot more than my Orwellian band. I’ll tell you this — 12,000 steps a day is typical for me.

I’m absolutely more present. I don’t know if that’s a combination of the FitBit and Tara or just a nice after-effect of the long walks, but I am seeing everyone in their many dimensions, which has helped me accept my flaws; conversely, seeing greatness in others helps me appreciate my growth.

This introspection has flooded my relationship with my children and my social circles. It makes me even more of a truth-seeker and a person of accountability. When the data is staring you in the face, it’s hard to refute. You can ignore it, you can deny it, you can suspect it inaccurate. We know what we know and we repress what we repress.

One of my sons is behind in his math class by several assignments. The assignments were sent home and he has a deadline. He wants to do some things this coming week which are what we consider “carrots” to hang over his head to get him to comply with his academic requirements. He thinks we are being unreasonable.

I said to him this morning, with only sincerity: “When we do what we’ve always done, we will get what we’ve always gotten.”

It’s like a FitBit.

I am not here to force him. We, as his parents are here to remind him of his responsibility to his teachers; this is NOT about me and my parenting. This is NOT about my husband and his presence. If two of the three kids are on time academically and one isn’t, it’s likely not a systemic situation. There have been moments when all three of the boys are struggling academically and it has absolutely been a busy and distracted time in the household; these things generally don’t just happen. So we’ve addressed them and try to keep things level-headed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In this particular case, he wants what he wants, and we want him to adhere to his relationship and his responsibility to his teachers. Or he doesn’t get the carrot. I know people who fret about how these things look “on the family”; that perhaps signs of academic struggle reveal inner turmoil in the household (and that has certainly been a reliable indicator), so I wonder: is it really for the kid’s success or does the demand for academic triumph serve more as a façade of domestic bliss? That even despite the turbulence inside the walls and under the roof, that scholastic achievement is high, so Mom and Dad don’t have to sweat the shit they’re creating or stirring up or ignoring? “He’s not on heroin, so everything’s fine!”

For this particular situation, it’s definitely not a case of us ignoring my son or denying some domestic issue. This particular child, who is a lot like yours truly, simply hates math. Because he and I are alike, I get it. However, he isn’t growing up in the shitstorm I did, so I have less patience for it. My position is this: just get it done. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but not handing in classwork is an insult to your teacher.

So when a kid is floundering, discounting the specter of domestic trouble serves no one. Trust me on that.

I actually said the other day, “I’m done thinking about Mom.”

It’s so funny. That proposition, and so utterly feckless. If we are going to be so rigid, we must remember what we are finished thinking about.

As usual, in my way, I am trying to be finished thinking about the harshness, or the “turbulence of recent years” as an “in-law uncle” wrote when she died. But we all know what forcing does.

forcing does this. that tree is still growing, wind. she doesn't care what you say.

forcing does this. those tree are still growing, wind. they don’t care what you say. (c) (Clement Philippe/Arterra Picture Library/Alamy)

But he was right, when he wrote “In ways unimagined, [her loss] it will leave a hole in your world.  …  It inflicts an unfortunate dose of adulthood to lose a parent.” It’s true… we can’t blame them for our crap anymore.

On Being

During these Orwellian FitBit-mandated walks with the dogs and while listening to Brach, she quoted psychologist Carl Rogers what wrote On Becoming a Person, as saying,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

That quote sliced through me. It reminded me of myself, of my mother, of social acquaintances, and the tremendously difficult work of truly accepting ourselves AS we are, and really, being OK with it. Not saying “I wish I were taller” or even the Stuart Smalley version of “I am ___ and ___ and ___ and darn it, and people like me…” Rogers isn’t talking about settling for who we are… or forcing our freaking benevolence and weirdness on others. He’s talking about accepting how and what we exhibit and manifest (jealous, nervous, angry, addicted, biased, afraid, insecure, deflective, repellant, arrogant, busy, reactive, meddlesome, demanding, impatient, critical, comparative, selfish, needy, thoughtless, unkind, self-absorbed, et al.) and getting down to the insanely difficult business of changing it. It requires mindfulness.

Sorry.

Ninety-five percent of our behaviors are subconscious in motivation or simple iteration. We have to pay attention to those moments, those motivations and drill the hell down and change it, because WE KNOW it’s not right.

I took a Facebook quiz this week about the Kiersey temperament (not personality) type quiz. Turns out I’m a “rational” temperament. It was heartening to me. It explained so much to me which is helpful in learning to accept myself. At times I find myself to be unreasonable about things, and it’s not that learning why I am is a good thing, it’s that it’s not out of nowhere. So now, knowing the basis for it, helps me learn to be more aware of it and possibly change it.

So while doing my subtle work of changing parts of myself in ways to make life easier, I see this summer as one of rest. My oldest is about to enter his senior year of high school. I can not express more truth than clichés do in telling you how fast the time has flown. I am reduced to a heaping pile of sobs when I look back on the life of these magnificent children I’ve been utterly blessed to have ushered into this abundant and vexing world. Being a mother, without a doubt, is the most demanding, unheralded and humbling “title” I’ve ever been blessed to wear. I try not to compare, but sometimes it is impossible: the choices my mother made in absolutely experiencing the treasure and terror of motherhood versus the choices I have made in experiencing it. I do not want them to look upon these days with me as ones of sadness and regret and shame of performance toward my survival. That said, I can not construct false meaning for the boys either.

Egos are absolutely at play. Fear has no place in motherhood, other than to keep you on track and to help you be more present.

As John Mayer wrote, “Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood / I know the heart of life is good.”

Thank you.