Patience is My Practice – Sometimes

IMG_0697Im not the most patient individual in the world.  Or universe.  I try.  Its part of my practice.  But at my weakest moments, when life is too full and I feel overwhelmed by it all, I can be an impatient, humorless and cantankerous grouch.

Case in point:  a recent any interaction with a nationwide cable company that shall remain nameless (Comcast).  During the move in February my beloved NCLP – a man of seemingly infinite patience without a cantankerous bone in his body – offered to deal with installing wireless in the new condo.  As it happened, I was present when our technician arrived.  A lovely, intelligent and engaging gentleman, he had the wireless up and running in minutes.  As the technician was leaving I kindly asked begged him to take with him two cable boxes (who needs a television when theres free Hulu?) and the modem that had just been replaced by its smaller and speedier cousin. He was sympathetic but could not help.  The equipment would stay with me.

A few days later, while standing in my storage unit determining how to stack the detritus of life from which Ive yet to find the courage to part, it hit me.  Literally.  Looking back, my reaction to being bonked by a cable box was extreme.  But I can tell you it felt great.

After letting loose with a few expletives and without taking a moment to consider the ramifications of my actions I picked up the box, walked the few yards to the garbage dumpster behind the Chinese restaurant, and threw the damn thing away.

And now, two months later, my impetuousness has come back to bite me in the tuckus.  The cable company would like their box back.   Theyve been calling repeatedly and until today Ive avoided admitting the pickle my lack of patience has created.  This morning I drove to the local Xfinity Emporium (ironically and with a healthy bit of snark I parked at the ATT shop next door).  I handed in the old modem.  I tried to return the new cable box but it was refused on the grounds that the box – all shiny silver and still shrink wrapped – is part of my bundle.  Dont ask.  Finally, the customer service rep (who was desperate with allergies but really a very nice woman) asked about the missing cable box.

I dont know where it is.

You should really try to find it.

I think it got lost in the move.

You should really try to find it because youre being charged for it.  Once you return it all that money will be credited to you.

Im not going to find it.  I couldnt quite summon the courage to confess to Comcast how their box met its end.  How much will I be charged?

One hundred sixty-two dollars.

Can I just pay for it now?

You should really try to find it.

She seemed so nice.  So certain that surely the cable box was in a closet somewhere and not littering a landfill.  I just didnt have the heart to tell her and so I thanked her and said goodbye.  Im down one modem but theres a cable box in the back of my car that I will not be throwing in a dumpster no matter how many times it falls on my head.  Its going right back into my storage unit.

As for the money my impatience has cost me?  I have a bucket full of change that Ill take over to the Coinstar machine at Mollie’s.  I was hoping to treat my NCLP to a nice dinner on California Avenue but I suspect there’re just enough quarters in that bucket to cover the cost of that poor cable box.

Patience is my practice, and there was a time in my life when I would have blamed the technician or the customer service rep before even considering that I am the one responsible for my actions and my reactions.  I’m grateful for that understanding.  I’m grateful that I can find humor in this latest adventure in Comcastland.  I’m even a bit grateful that it’s going to set me back one hundred and sixty-two dollars.  I’m not certain why.  

Maybe the next time I feel full and overwhelmed I’ll remember to step back and breathe.

 

 

 


How Do We Know How to Teach?

CIMG0701There are yoga teachers who prepare for each moment of each class with intention and crystalline clarity. These are the teachers who write a script and a set list of poses. They’ve chosen a pranayama practice, cued a playlist on their iPad and have bookmarked a Pema Chodron quote.

Being prepared for the roomful of students we are about to teach is absolutely necessary and this type of teacher is, if anything, prepared. But is that truly being present for your students? Or is it the means to an entertaining end? I don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps it depends on the collective intentions of the individuals in the studio – the expectations we have for the practice.

I’ve just stepped into my third decade of teaching and there are still times when my confidence takes a hit. Perhaps my attendance has temporarily faltered or a student unfamiliar with my teaching style offers criticism. No matter. Out of some misguided belief that all good yoga teachers create detailed lesson plans, I will find myself writing a set list of asanas. I’ll maintain this routine for a few weeks before realizing that I am not that teacher. It’s not how my asanas roll.

It has been my experience that teaching from a script inevitably results – for me – a less successful class. While this won’t be true for all teachers, my scripted classes lack connection and the seamless organic flow that I enjoy and believe are a necessary component of all good yoga practices.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared.

While I have a set of intentions for each and every class I teach, it’s not until I arrive at the studio and can feel the energy of the room, the energy of my students and the energy contained within me as the teacher do I decide on the direction the class will take and the sequence of poses.

My decision is based on intuition and instinct. The trust I have in my teaching intuition took time to manifest and it is something that I now value and hold near to my heart.

I don’t believe it is something that can be taught. The qualities of intuition and instinct we develop are nurtured through our successes and our failures as teachers. And I’ve had plenty of both.

But – and as teachers we know this – intuition and instinct or the ability to create a great playlist are not the only qualities on which we should rely. As long as we teach we are also and always students. As long as we teach we are also and always beginners.

 


Emotionally Bypassing Joy and Sorrow

Shadow Bridge IEach week I open and close my yoga classes with a reading.  I try to choose passages that have heart and meaning in my own life.  I hope that if the words I share touch my emotional center then they may have resonance for others.  It doesnt matter to me where I find inspiration.  Over the past month Ive read quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Martha Graham and Albert Einstein.  This past week, however, I was reading from The Pocket Pema Chödrön.  Each day last week, sometimes several times each day, I heard myself deliver Pemas thoughts on our desire for certainty and happiness.  I heard myself, through Pema, encourage my students to touch the center of their pain and to be present with it.  In that way, rather than becoming weaker through our endless craving for security we might be opened.  We might find strength.

These are powerful ideas.  Not only does she want us to sit in our own discomfort, she wants us to sit with the suffering of the person to our right and to our left.  She wants us to take on all suffering so that we can learn to find a way to be at home in our own.  Pema wants us to be still in the suffering.

Yet I cant help but believe that we must also be still in the joy of each moment.  I dont know that its true we brush by suffering in order to find our happy.  What I see in my life is this:  I brush by everything (the joy and the sorrow) in order to tick one more to do off my daily list.  I wrap myself in a façade of good intentioned optimism that functions as an emotional bypass.  And so, while I fail to touch the center of my pain I also dont touch the center of my joy.

This week I will hold space for both sorrow and joy. I will resolve to not rush by the sadness I feel for a friends suffering.  Instead I will notice how it feels in my breath and my body.  I will resolve to not rush by the joy I feel for life – for the birdsong outside my window or the sweet stubble of the nasturtiums seeds I planted that are just now beginning to break out of the soil.

There is suffering all around us.  But there is joy, too.  Take time for both.

 

 

 


Vision, Clarity and Cataracts

A few hours after surgery.

A few hours after surgery.

For the twenty-four months that I was in graduate school I struggled to complete reading assignments. I labeled myself lazy. I was convinced I lacked discipline when it felt impossible to read more than three or four pages at a time.

The truth was I struggled to complete reading assignments because I was struggling to see.

Over twenty million Americans over the age of forty have cataracts and in 2015 approximately three million will have cataract surgery. I am one of those three million. Two weeks ago the vision in my left eye hovered around 20/400. Today my distance vision in the same eye is 20/20. In a few months I’ll have the cataract in my right eye removed. I hope for the same sparkling results.

It’s true. The world, through my left eye, sparkles. I’m shocked by the clarity and crisp edges, the color and the detail. How did I not know what I was missing?

I guess cataracts sneak up on us. The diminishing light isn’t noticed. It’s not until an ophthalmologist sees the clouding of the lens and says, “Oh! You have a cataract!” that we realize we’ve been missing out. We’ve not been able to see all that this beautiful world has to offer.

In that way, cataracts are a bit like habits we ignore until we can no longer notice the impact they have on our lives.

I have some habits, some cycles I go through, that diminish the quality of my life in the same way that pesky cataract diminished my vision. The patterns that I bump into again and again dull my spirit. They include disparaging thought loops and actions that I know are harmful. They include choices that do not support health and wellness and spoken words that weaken the positive energy I wish to carry into the studio classes I teach, my work with individual clients and the loving relationships I’m blessed to have in my life.

Becoming aware of the patterns that make it difficult to live our best and brightest life and then taking action to bring about a return to clarity reminds us that we all hold a vision in our hearts.

This simple procedure to repair my broken vision has led me to ask myself once again, “How do I want to walk through this life?”

For now, at least, I can see that walk a little more clearly.

 

 

 


Joy and the Fearless Heart

IMG_2910My hair went through a few changes last year. From spirals to straight and back again. No bangs to total bangs. And then last April, just when I was finally learning to embrace the curl and the fringe, without a second thought I chopped it all off.

There was a time when I believed that changing my hair would change my life. In my thirties I kept my hair in a graduated bob that would make Mary Crowley proud. And then, influenced by my new-found crush on all things Irish I took an electric razor to my head. I wasn’t quite brave enough to cut as close a shave as Sinead O’Connor but it was enough to turn a few heads – especially those times that I forgot to attach my #5 blade and carved random bald spots onto my pate.

Sigh. Those were the days.

Then there was the color. Various shades of red sometimes verging on purple. Dark brown leaning toward black. Platinum blond (just once for about ten days).

Not to mention the clothes. Vintage dresses layered with suit jackets and vests from the men’s section of the local charity shop. A cheap knock-off of the black Doc Marten boots I craved and fishnet stockings. Paisley with hound’s-tooth with plaid.

Those were, indeed, the days.

Each time I changed my hair or wore a new tattered treasure I thought, “If I look like this then I’ll be more like that.By ‘that I think I meant whatever quality I believed I lacked. In those years I hoped to be brave and confident, artful and hip. Those were the years I struggled as an artist and I hoped that if looked more like what I believed an artist should look like then I’d have a better chance at success. It didn’t occur to me that showing up each day and working hard, allowing my authentic voice to speak through my images and facing the world with a fearless heart would be more effective than a haircut or a pair of boots.

I’m thinking about my past and I’m thinking about how, from time to time, those same ideas rise up in me. About how I need to be a certain body type or wear a certain brand of yoga attire in order to look like what I think yoga teachers should look like.

Fortunately I’m older and maybe I’m a bit wiser, too. It’s not long before I remember all those things I wish I knew back when I was shaving my head with a #5 blade.   It’s not long before I remember my authentic voice and who I am as a teacher. It’s not long before I remember that who I am is someone who shows up to the studio with a fearless heart. It’s not what I look like that makes me a yoga teacher. If you asked me I think I’d say it’s the joy I feel when I teach. That’s what makes me a yoga teacher. The fact that I am filled with joy each time I walk into a studio. Even those days when my alter ego Snarky McSnarkington tries to take over. Joy still wins.

February was a fierce month. But now it’s March. I’ve settled into my new home and my new life. Those cravings and longings that I wrote about just a few weeks ago belong to someone else. Those couldn’t be my words. Those emotions, the desperation, they were all fleeting moments. But I moved through them. And I’m home.


Who Is That Woman and What Has She Done to Mimm?

CIMG0083Im not feeling myself these days.  Wait.  Thats not entirely true.  I feel very much like myself when Im in the studio practicing asana with a group of students.  Thats where I feel fully present.  In the moment.  At ease.  Loving and loved.

Im very grateful, therefore, that in a few hours Ill be in the studio teaching my facilitated Yin workshop, Giving and Receiving.  Ive been looking forward to this workshop from the moment it was added to the Samyama schedule.

I am looking forward to it for all the right reasons.  Its another opportunity to share the benefits of a quiet and soulful practice.  Plus partnered yin – an offshoot of traditional yin practice that asks two individuals to work as one – builds on a foundation of open trust.  Melting into the asana with your partner’s support explores ideas of control and release, surrender and outcome.

Meanwhile, outside of the studio, I have a stranglehold on control and outcome.  Theres little room for surrender and release.  I am preparing to move into my new home and have a clear image in my mind of how this should unfold.  But the image in my mind – the story Im telling myself of how this should all happen – is not congruent with reality.  Im surrounded by what I believe is chaos. My soft edges have begun to harden into corners.  Ive lost my ability to roll.  Ive lost my practice.

It doesnt matter that the hurdles in front of me are joyful pursuits.  It doesnt matter that the end-result, when the chaos around me clears and the dust settles, will be a home of my own.

I am desperate to be finished so that I can return to being the woman who remembers that this mad pursuit is like running a race with ghosts.  These walls that I call mine, this carpet, that furniture – these are all ghosts that will one day crumble to dust.  Yet I am desperate for the illusion of warmth and safety to wrap itself around me. I am desperate to wake each morning with the man I love snoring beside me. Desperate for a fresh cup of coffee and the latest Economist on a quiet Sunday.  I am desperate and I am in this race so that I can have the story Ive told myself but there is no traction, my feet spin but I cannot move.

These cravings have filled the space once held by my practice.

Wanting to shape the future I see for myself is not a bad thing.  Locking in the trajectory of my future without accounting for all the variables that make life interesting is.  I want a home.  But if Im ever to find it I need to surrender.  I need to loosen the grip I have on the outcome I see in my minds eye.  I need to soften my hard edges and learn to roll.


Samyama’s Mini-sabbatical

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

The Patanjali mural at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto

Life is filled with small blessings. When word arrived that we were going to take a ten-day ‘mini-sabbatical’ at Samyama Yoga Center I accepted the news but couldn’t help but ask “Why?” It’s unsettling when the schedules we’ve created for ourselves shift. It feels like a violation of our trust. It feels as if everything is out of our control. But it serves as a reminder that all we have is change. The good news about this particular change is that it will be brief and very soon order will be restored. We should remember, however, that sometimes the change we push against turns out to be exactly what we need.

In Yin I talk about creating space. Our little Samyama Sabbatical is doing exactly that. It’s creating space. It’s offering a few days of self-reflection and a shift in perspective. We can take time to consider our personal yoga practice and how we bring it into the world. We can take time to consider what it means to practice yoga. Is yoga only about showing up at the studio for asana class? What would happen if we used the time Samyama’s sabbatical is giving us to volunteer? To offer something of service to our community?

My regularly scheduled classes at Samyama are cancelled from Friday the 13th of February through Sunday the 22nd.

They will resume on Monday the 23rd of February.

I will, however, be teaching my partnered Yin workshop “Giving and Receiving” on

Saturday the 14th of February from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. There are still a few spaces left.