Social Media is Making Me Sick

jOCjulUCT0q30hFW6gbywgDiscovering that a friend from high school – a quiet boy that I had a crush on in 1974 – served in the military after graduation, met hid one true love later in life and now spends time traveling around the world with her filled my heart. 

Finding family on my father’s side – a man I never knew – and now preparing to meet a cousin who can tell me about the half-brothers I didn’t know existed until a few years ago would have much more difficult to do before 2006.

Keeping up with people I’ve known through my life or clicking the crying emoji when a friend I’ve never met loses a beloved dog, sharing New York Times articles about the plastics found in the belly of a whale or Nikolas Kristof’s latest opinion piece (and believing that means I’ve done my part) these are all the reasons why I love and loathe social media. And it’s why I’m letting go of my personal social media accounts.

Don’t get too excited. My personal accounts will disappear but social media’s sticky tentacles will still have me in a stranglehold. Where would I be without social media as a marketing tool? I use Facebook to advertise my classes and to showcase the personal essays that land on your feed in ever dwindling frequency. Without Facebook I’d be posting fliers on telephone poles and sending long holiday letters to the few dozen folks who subscribe to Practically Twisted. In other words, I’m like the guy who lists all the many ways his life has improved since giving up Facebook but still has an Instagram account for his dog. 

And that’s just it. On the surface, Facebook seems innocent enough. After all, who doesn’t want to know what the girl who sat behind you in seventh grade algebra is doing these days? Before Facebook all we could do was guess. Before Facebook, I hoped that at least one of the kids who tormented me in 1972 – when my name was Robbie Myers (long story and no, I’m not in a witness protection program) – would find my name on the masthead of Elle Magazine and believe I was the editor. Without Facebook, how would they know that although we share the same name and even the same birth month, that I am not the Robbie Myers that found success in New York City’s high powered publishing world?

Other social media platforms don’t vex me the same way Facebook does. I’ve opened and then abandoned countless Twitter accounts and don’t really get the point of Instagram. So leaving them behind is painless.

But Facebook? Loosening Facebook’s grip is no easy feat. After all, in the beginning Facebook was the gentle and omniscient narrator of our lives. We were having too much fun to see the truth – Facebook is a beast of a business. Its primary purpose is to succeed and success is not measured in how many virtual friends you have. It’s measured in money.

But, like many things in our twenty-first century lives, it’s complicated. 

At first it was the time-suck that got to me. And then it was the sense of false connection we feel for people we’ve never met and the underlying loneliness that false connection hides. Pile on that the trolls, the bots and the anonymity that fuels mean-spirited commentary. Finally, the evil that was live-streamed from New Zealand. Offering infamy to twisted souls shouldn’t be as simple as giving them access to a camera, an internet connection and the ability to live-stream (of course, the counter argument to that is Philando Castile’s brave partner, who live-streamed his murder by a police officer in Minneapolis. Who would we have believed if she hadn’t had access to her phone and Facebook’s platform?). 

It’s complicated. I knew it would be. But social media is making me sick. It steals my time, makes me angry and breaks my heart. And so, anyone who needs me knows where to find me. And if you don’t know where to find me, you don’t need me.

 


Change and the Hope of Being a North Star

fullsizeoutput_596My favorite sweatshirt is from The Lost Whale, a bed and breakfast near Trinidad, California. On the front, in bold blue Times New Roman, is the word ‘lost’. On the back, of course, is the word ‘found’. 

I was much better at being lost when I was younger. I thought nothing of exploring foreign cities or wandering off marked trails when hiking the hills near my childhood home.

I now prefer leaving the getting lost to others. I want to believe my resilient and brave self of the past now clings to safety – clings to what is known – because the world has changed.  But as much as the world has changed, so have I.  My fearlessness has been tempered by sixty years of life experience. It emerges from time to time but for the most part I enjoy cheering others as they take great leaps of faith.

Months ago I had a conversation with a student weeks away from graduating from a 200-hour yoga teacher training about how it feels to be lost. This student was filled with deep uncertainty and considered leaving the teacher training and abandoning his yoga practice. Reading a recently published book about yoga in the West triggered deep self-doubt and distrust in a tradition thousands of years old. He felt lost.

My advice? I counseled the student to stay true to himself. I told him to read more books and to embrace feeling unmoored. To trust the unknowing and to not be afraid if he found himself wandering from a well-trod path.

I don’t know if my advice was sound but I can empathize with his dilemma. How do we continue to teach yoga when the practice we love evolves into something that feels far removed from what we understood yoga practice to be when we first began? Change is constant. Are we obligated to be carried along? It can be a positive force but change can be detrimental, too. So how do we discern the difference between change that elevates our practice and change that dilutes the power of our practice?

polaris-2-15-2013-Ken-Christison-NC-sq-e1463582304603Remaining true – living authentic lives – leans against the change that arrives unexpected and uninvited. It leans against the change that is slow and stealth*. Leaning against the latter – against the change that can’t be felt until we look behind and see how it all once was – requires a steadfast awareness of who we are as individuals and what we offer as yoga teachers.

We’re encouraged to ‘be the change we want to see’. That’s nice advice. But what if we turned it around. What if we decided to be a North Star? What if, as teachers, instead of riding change and trends what if we became a shining light? I guess what I’m trying to say is this: be true north for your students. Keep studying. Keep learning. Understand the depths of the tradition we teach.

*the rise of the YIC (Yoga Industrial Complex), the need for yoga teachers to also be adept at creating mix tapes, the presumed need for Yoga Alliance, the glut of factory-like teacher training programs, the focus on asana at the expense of seven other limbs, the revelations of teacher misconduct and the assumption that if you see the words ‘guru’ or ‘master teacher’ in front a name then it must be so, the loss of humility…


Don’t Dream It’s Over

The suitcases are back down in the storage locker, the laundry is folded and tucked away. The photos have been filed and the promise to have our favorites made into a Shutterfly book is written on that long ‘to do’ list.

fullsizeoutput_ccfIt’s like a dream. The only reason why I know for certain I was there is because of the sense of familiarity that welled inside when I saw images of the protests that occurred in Kerala in early January. A wall of women stretched the length of the place I had just been and deep in my soul I could feel the heat and hear the traffic and smell the layered perfumes of India.

I’ll be honest. I don’t want to be writing this. The deeper my last post about the backwaters of Kerala sinks into this blog’s history, the further away I am from that magical land. That’s how wonderful those ten days were.

I know plenty of people who look forward to their two-week holiday every year. Friends, students and private clients let me know they’ll be missing class or canceling appointments. They organize the cat sitter, hold the mail and stop the daily delivery of the New York Times. The kids are piled into the family van for a road trip or a race to the airport for a bargain priced flight to parts unknown.

glglq8tkrey3i1gqy+kx2aOur ten days in Kerala were a first for Ben and me. Over the past five years we’ve enjoyed time spent with family back east and long weekend breaks to Half Moon Bay and Arcata, but we’ve never had an extended holiday all to ourselves. Even worse, there’s never been a time when we’ve taken a so-called break and didn’t take work along as if it were a third traveling companion. (And if I’m being totally honest, on my first day in Bangalore, while Ben was finishing his business meeting, I worked on Samyama’s monthly newsletter, Prana Pulse).

I’ve always been a little weak in the self-care department and until December I didn’t understand the point of vacations. Time away from work for me usually means I’m attending an IAYT conference or taking another training. But to just sit still? Until December this was impossible. Which is pretty funny considering how often I encourage clients to be kind to themselves. I guess it’s sort of a ‘do as I say and not as I do’ situation.

Besides its gentle beauty, the biggest blessing of Kerala were the blissful two days without wifi.

fullsizeoutput_aa6For those two days my brain turned the volume down on the endless chatter, my body relaxed in a way I didn’t think was possible, and Ben and I had a chance to bask in the love we share. We engaged with life, with the world around us and with each other. During those two days I was fully immersed in the life around me – the colors, the textures, the sounds and even the silence. I engaged with life, not with a computer. 

I was very lucky to be able to travel to the other side of the world and I don’t know when I’ll have that opportunity again. No matter. Ben and I plan on taking another vacation this year. It might not be extreme or exotic or even that expensive. But after this experience, after really feeling what it means to renew and recharge, our next vacation will be designed with kindness and self-care in mind.


The Backwaters of Kerala

fullsizeoutput_a24Winding our way down from Munnar to sea level the sky gradually shifts from blue to milk white. Not white like creamy full fat milk – more like the water-downed milk I remember from childhood. The milk I drank at Mrs. Dietrich’s kitchen table when I was a kid was so fresh and warm from the cow that she served it to her daughter and me on ice. As the ice melted the milk became thin and pale. That’s the color of the sky as we descend from Munnar.

Birdsong has disappeared. In its place are the blaring horns that sound like a million trumpets searching for the right key. Bass notes rumble from trucks and busses while the staccato sputter of three-wheeled auto-rickshaws adds rhythm. It’s a discordant lullaby for Ben, who easily falls asleep in the back seat. I can’t sleep. There’s too much color and life and I want to see it all.

+AVbGiiOQmW564wlhaw8PgWomen wrapped in colorful sarees ride side-saddle on scooters while on the road’s shoulder ancient men wrapped in lungis tucked in above their knees push carts balanced on bicycle wheels and piled high with wares.

In India, driving is a skill left to the fearless. An art form only for the brave. There are no discernible lanes on the roads and when by chance there is a stretch painted with a thin white line that line is largely ignored.  Traffic flows only with the overtaking of slower vehicles. Drivers pass one another on curves, hills and in defiance of any vehicle, no matter how large, racing toward them from the opposite direction. Negotiating small villages requires dodging pedestrians and the gentle street dogs that roam in small packs. Vehicles braid their way through intersections without stopping. 

And somehow, for the most part, it all kind of works. 

It would be easy to believe drivers who overtake on curves or don’t stop at intersections have a careless and cavalier attitude toward life. But I don’t believe that. I believe the one single rule of the road that informs Indian traffic is a healthy attitude toward death. The acceptance of what we don’t know – the time or place of our demise – is a freeing thing. 

We’re on our way to the backwaters of Kerala, to a place called Alleppey. From there we’ll spend a day and one night aboard a houseboat on Lake Vembanad.

IszyrQtvTTG7%%7VjZ+TGAThe four hour drive from Munnar to Alleppey is long and hot and bumpy but when we arrive at the houseboat all of that is forgotten. For the rest of the afternoon and into the first part of the next morning we’ll be on the longest lake in Kerala. We’re in a traditional houseboat. It moves almost without sound. I can hear the lapping of water and once again the sound of birds calling to one another. There’s an immense variety of bird life here – brahminy kites that look like bald eagles, kingfishers, parrots, flycatchers, darters, cormorants, egrets and herons all greet us as we move through the waters. 

IMG_3209The lake is life and livelihood for the people who live along its edge. Children are ferried home from school in wooden boats. Women wash clothes while their kids play in its waters. At sunrise lone fishermen, silhouetted in their small canoes by the red dawn, make their way to where they hope will be the day’s best catch.

I feel like an intruder. My Western sensibilities can not imagine what life is like for the people who live on the lake. Life means something different here, something I can’t define or experience. I’m a visitor – welcome or unwelcome – who will soon return to central heating, paved roads and hot water on demand. 4X+kzKIoSgGHjv7CeQx7zw

But I am swallowed up in the beauty of it all. I envy their connection to the water and the land. As I continue to watch and steal photos of people’s lives I consider how we all love and hate, live and die, work and rest, smile and mourn. Maybe the woman pounding wet clothes on cement and I have something the same inside. Different hopes but still hope. Different fears but still fear.


Kerala

From the air, if you’re high enough, the green carpet of trees could be anywhere. It could even be home. But as the plane descends the coconut trees begin to distinguish themselves. The river cuts into the earth in a way that is different to what you’ve known. Banana plantations define themselves in stiff squares of land. The roofs of homes are not the familiar red clay tiles you remember but are instead the bright blue color of tarps stretched across cinder blocks and corrugated tin. Yet, in the distance, an ornate and sparkling church calls the eye.

This is not home. This is unlike any place I’ve ever been. This is Kerala.

Kochi

The sunlight in Kochi is diffused by heavy, moist air. The December heat keeps my skin sticky and my ankles puffed. But it’s a beautiful light – intense and muted at the same time. It brightens colors and softens the edges of the Chinese fishermen nets that, since the 14th century, have pulled fish from Kochi’s harbour. The nets are fascinating structures built from teak and bamboo. They’re cantilevered and require nothing more than the weight of a man to lower themselves into the water.

Along the embankment men dressed in lungis, their heads wrapped in wet and frayed cloth as protection against the sun, prepare to sell the fish whose gills still move, desperate to find water. Interspersed between the fishmongers are stalls filled with wares available to purchase for the tourists fresh off cruise ships in port from Mumbai and Singapore. Follow the cobbled path from the nets to the jetty and you’ll find fish for your supper, leather belts, straw hats, toy tuk-tuks for the kids at home, plastic pasta makers and hand-held sewing machines the size of a stapler.

Nearby is a respite. The Church of Saint Francis is a short walk from the jetty. Built in 1503 and the original burial place of Vasco de Gama, it is a beautiful but unassuming building.

Its stone interior, lined with dark wooden pews, is cooled with a mechanism built of rope, pulleys and embroidered fabric attached to poles that run the length of the nave. The poles are lowered and when they swing the congregation is fanned by the movement of the fabric.

 

 

Munnar

The first two close calls were flukes. It was only after I saw my life pass before my eyes for the third time that I began to question our sanity. By the time we were in our fifth hour of winding switchbacks on a road so narrow we frequently stopped to accomodate traffic barreling down the steep grade toward us I knew we were doomed. We were headed toward a former hill station in Munnar now named Windermere Estate.

Just before we arrive at our destination we cross a one-lane bridge. The river is a good thirty feet below and calm. It’s difficult to believe that four months previous the same river turned violent and rose high enough to cover the span. Munnar was devastated in the floods that killed over one hundred and fifty people last August. Windermere Estate was cut off by landslides for fourteen days. There is still evidence of the landslides but with the exception of road damage evidenced on the long climb life has returned to normal.

It’s beautiful here. The air is warm but fresh and we awoke this morning to the song of the red whiskered bulbul and not the noise of car horns. From a vantage point reached by climbing a set of stairs cut into stone we have a view of mist covered tea plantations, deep valleys and a rugged mountain ridge on which, we’re told, wild elephants sometimes roam into view.

Our one day at Windermere is a day of rest. The grounds of the estate are too beautiful to contemplate leaving. With the exception of one short walk to a small village just below the estate grounds, we are content to watch the world go by from the little porch attached to our room.

Tomorrow we’ll make our way back down the mountain to Alleppey.


Arrival

Our plane touches down on schedule at Bangalore’s airport at 1:30 AM Wednesday morning. We deplane quickly and I am one of the first in line at passport control.

Traffic in Bangalore is a sensory experience of lights, color and sound

“What hotel are you staying in?”

“What?”

“What hotel are you staying in? How long are you here? When are you leaving? Have you purchased your ticket to leave?”

“What?”

Two hours later I am still sitting in immigration, left alone and convinced I’ll be put on the next plane back to Frankfurt. When an older gentleman finally decides he can see me, I tell the story once again.

“I don’t know the name of the hotel. We’re in Bangalore until Friday. I can show you the entire itinerary, I just can’t show you the name of the hotel.”

It’s unlike me to be so unprepared. To not know the answer to an obvious question. How could I have let this happen? And why didn’t I lie? Surely it would be so simple to say that we’re staying at the Marriott. But what if we’re not? What would the consequences be?I begin to plead.

“He’s downstairs waiting for me. Can’t someone just go downstairs and ask him the name of the hotel?”

The reply is gruff. “I can assure you he’s not downstairs.”

As it happens, Ben is indeed downstairs enjoying cups of tea with his driver. I don’t know this but he has already spoken to Lufthansa, who have assured him that I am upstairs. He is told about my problem at immigration and provides the name and address of the hotel. The message is never delivered.

By 3:30 AM I almost see the humor in the situation.

I’m kept company by two young immigration officers. We try and fail to force my phone to connect to Ben’s. I remind them again that Ben is on the ground floor and if they only called for him on the courtesy phone or the loudspeaker or held up a sign with his name on it he would arrive and I would be released from captivity.

“Are you certain he’s here?”

“Of course I am. He’s here.”

One of my two companions takes the iPhone I’ve been clutching and tries to reach Ben through WhatsApp. It doesn’t work. For some reason Find Friends does and we are finally able to confirm that Ben is where he promised to be. A few moments later – and by that point my brain is so tired it’s impossible for me to know how it happened – a text comes through from Ben with the name of the hotel. My immigration companion writes the information down on the form and sends me on my way.

My processing, however, is still not complete. I need to return to the starting point. There are fingerprints to process, bioinformation to gather and a passport to stamp.

“So you are a yoga teacher?”

The details are easily available on my visa application.

“Yes.”

“Tell me, how can I lose weight?”

Is this a trick question? I’ve been traveling for twenty-six hours and have been held captive for the past two. Do I have the cerebral energy to formulate enough words to deliver the answer she wants to hear?

“I don’t really think yoga is about losing weight.”

I find the strength to mumble something about Patanjali and pranayama, about right living. They nod.

“But can you give me some tips? How can I lose weight?”

I give up.

“Practice.”

Downstairs my suitcase is delivered and I’m escorted through arrivals. Ben and his driver greet me with a garland of exquisite flowers and a bouquet. The heady scent is overwhelming and beautiful. It surrounds me as surely as the soft chatter of loving reunions and the relentless barking of car horns.

Welcome to Bangalore, India.

An hour later, at 6:00 AM, we arrive at our hotel.

It’s the Marriott.


Journeys

I’m leaving for India tomorrow.  Never in my wheelhouse, I’m a bit surprised. But life falls the way it wants to fall, no matter the plans you make. So here I am, one suitcase and a backpack in, waiting to fall asleep so that I can leave on a Monday and arrive in Bangalore on Wednesday. Everyone wonders if I plan to take a yoga class or indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. No. I have no plans to take a yoga class or to indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. I plan to experience art in Kochi, to visit Munnar, to spend a night on a houseboat and another night at the Coconut Lagoon. The advice I’ve been given by those who have been before is to “soak it all in.” I plan to be amazed and overwhelmed, inspired and humbled.

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Bruce knows something is up…

Bruce the Cat knows something is up. Not lacking in feline intelligence, he knows that when the big black boxes come out his humans are going away. He pretends to be traumatized but the truth is he will wrap his cat sitter around his de-clawed paw (not my doing – he came that way) and will almost certainly be enjoying a little kitty spa vacay while I’m gone.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen ten days in Kerala if not for my darling Ben, who left for a short business trip to Bangalore on Friday. Having lived there for four years, India is Ben’s heart-home.

Do you have a heart-home? Maybe your heart-home is the place where you feel your spirit soar. Or maybe it’s the place you feel most loved. Your heart-home could be a physical space or a state-of-being, and it might shift and change depending on the circumstances. Where is your heart-home?