The Importance of Stillness

CIMG2291When I was a kid I spent most of my time in my bedroom. We lived in a former two-room schoolhouse that had been built in 1814 and converted into a home sometime in the 1950’s. My room still had the chalk trough running along one wall and when I pretended to be a ballerina like my best friend Leslie Merkle I used it as a barre. The trough ran through to the small room next door that had been converted into a tiny playroom. This room had a portion of the original blackboard. When my mom found an old desk from the school behind an out building she refinished it for the playroom where I pretended to teach Barbie, her best friend Midge an array of stuffed animals how to multiply. That room also held my awesome collection of Archie comic books and Classics Illustrated.

But most of the time I was in my bedroom. If I wasn’t playing my ukulele or guitar then I was playing records or lip syncing to Tony Orlando and Dawn with my hairbrush as a microphone. If that was too much action for me I was happy to sit on the wide windowsill writing or maybe watching the creek that ran behind our house. There were three lilac bushes near my bedroom window and I was content to close my eyes to let their scent wash over me.

I was content being still.

Since we’ve been confined to quarters I’ve thought about how, as a child, I was happy with my own company. Fifty years later I’m looking to my young self to help me navigate our current shutdown.

Of course, when I was a child the only way to stay connected to friends was with the one black rotary dial telephone located in my mother’s bedroom. We were one of five or six families connected by a party line and if Luella Welty, who lived down the lane, stayed on the phone for too long my mom would yell at her to hang up. 

There are no more party lines. Now we have Zoom and WebEx and FaceTime. We have Instagram and Twitter.  And as often as I’ve tried to quit Facebook, I just can’t. So although we are physically distant from one another, we’re not necessarily socially distant. It has made the art of stillness elusive.

Yet stillness is important. It’s the place where are heart rests. It’s where our brain stops listening to the mind’s incessant chatter and hears the birdsong instead. We need to have moments of stillness now more than ever. In an uncertain world, stillness is a refuge of peace and hope.

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.


It’s Possible I’m a Fuddy-Duddy with No Sense of Humor…or Not

I am not the Poster Child for Perfection.  I have laughed at others’ misfortunes.  I have walked past the legless man begging for a bit of change (although, in fairness, today I bought him a chicken salad sandwich).  I have walked a block out of my way to avoid the Greenpeace kids in front of Whole Foods beseeching me to protect the environment.

Perfect? Me?  Not even close.

At times I am thoughtless and sometimes I speak before I’ve considered how my words might sound to another. In other words, I’m human.  I’m no more caring, compassionate or spiritual than my neighbor.  But, like my neighbor, I’m trying.  I’m trying to reflect on how my choices, my words and my actions impact the lives of those they reach.

And that’s why it has occurred to me that we might want to sit back and take a moment to contemplate how we use social media.

A well-intentioned friend who thought I would find it funny first delivered the joke to my inbox about a year ago.  About six months later, a new version of the same bad joke showed up, this time sent by a student.  And then, just a few days ago, a yoga teacher and friend whom I admire decided to post the joke on his Faeebook wall.

And that’s why I wish I’d spoken twelve months earlier.

I guess you’d consider the joke a sight gag.  On one side there are a series of photographs taken of yoga practitioners in various postures looking beautiful and calm and aligned.  These are juxtaposed by stolen images (I say stolen because it’s obvious the subjects did not know they were being photographed) of men who appear to be living rough. They may be drunk or on drugs.  They are all either sleeping or unconscious and their bodies have fallen in a way that mimics the postures being demonstrated by the yogis.  I don’t want to post a link.  If you’re curious Google “drunk yoga”.

My family was touched by alcoholism and drug dependency and maybe that’s why I can’t laugh.  I can’t laugh at something so cruel and heartless.  Something that demonstrates an unbelievable lack of compassion.

Then again, it could be that with all my imperfections I’m also a fuddy-duddy with no sense of humor.

Either way, maybe we should sit back and consider what we pass around on Facebook. How often have we reflexively shared a post, an image or a joke?  Do our posts speak to who we are?  Are they a reflection of how we relate to the world and to one another?  Do they add something to the dialogue or are they cheap shots?

Breaking News: The World is Not Inside My Computer

Funny thing happened yesterday morning.  The alarm sounded at 6:00.  I hit the snooze button three times (per usual) and then leapt from bed at 6:15 with a song in my heart.  I sprang (yes, I’m a morning person) over to my desk with a skip in my step and opened my laptop with eager anticipation.

And waited…

waited some more…

Where are the bars?  Where are the little black bars?? 

This was the point where panic began to set in.


The Internet had abandoned me.  I was a woman alone on an island with no means of discovering what had happened in the world while I was asleep.  I began to blame myself.  What I had done wrong?  Did I stay up too late last night?  Did a crumb of tabouleh fall between the keys?  Did I forget to pay my bill?  My bill…that’s it…I forgot to pay…

I paced for a bit and considered going back to bed but the kettle was ready to boil and the Tazo Black teabag was in the mug.  I sent a text to a friend – the one with whom I have early morning Facebook chats with when I should be…wait a minute…when I should be writing.



I guess I could write.

Great Caesar’s Ghost what a novel idea!

With a cup of fresh brewed tea and a few notes I managed forty-five minutes of sustained and even somewhat lucid sentence construction.

But then I remembered Pete’s Coffee.  Why, didn’t I drive by a Pete’s (if I took the slightly more circuitous route) on my way to my first client?

I arrived at a curiously empty Pete’s with an hour to spare before the real workday began.  I traded tea for the Coffee of the Day (with room for milk) and sat outside in the gorgeous morning sun, opened my laptop and…

Please enter your access code.

What access code?  WHAT ACCESS CODE???

Yes, I know that all I had to do was step inside and ask.  But then I realized:  it was a beautiful morning, the sun was warm, the coffee was good and I felt alive.  Something about breaking the routine; something about feeling the earth beneath my feet and listening to the commuter traffic one hundred yards away. I felt connected to the world.  A part of something.  Something my morning dip into the Huffington Post and scrolling through two hundred Facebook updates has never managed to do.

I closed my laptop, and then my eyes, and sighed.  It was a good morning.

Soul Mates, Online Dating and Therapy

Milano, Italy

Image via Wikipedia

I did it.  Something I’ve refused to do for years.  On-line dating, eHarmony style.

Oh, and I also began therapy.  But more about that later.

I don’t know when or where or even if I’ll meet my soul mate.  Yes, I believe in soul mates.  I believe there is someone looking for me and when we meet the connection might not be instant but it will be profound and the love we fall into – despite our flaws, our disagreements, the challenges we face in life – will be unfailing.  I believe that.

And for years I believed love and connection was out of my reach.  That somehow I didn’t deserve it.  Besides, I had plenty of platonic love and connection with my yoga students.  Weren’t my cravings for romantic love selfish?

As friends know, I’ve always hoped I’d meet someone – anyone – at the salad bar of whole foods as our tongs tangle over the romaine.  When I mentioned this recently on Facebook, a friend replied, “I think meeting someone at the salad bar is a toss up!”

He’s right.  If I want love and connection – if I want to find the soul mate that at this very moment is looking for me – then I have to increase my chances of finding him.

It’s been forty-eight hours and the potential matches are rolling in.  All eight of them.  One of them is someone I’ve known for years.  How weird is that?  I archived his profile immediately (eHarmony’s lovely euphemism for ‘delete’).  But now I’m asking myself, is online dating for the birds, or does eHarmony know something I don’t?

Now…about that therapy…..

Pu-erh, Genmaicha and the Hero’s Journey

Beeng Cha teacake pu erh tea and Japanese teapot

Image by Scott MacLeod Liddle via Flickr

I’ve been thinking about tea. Real tea.  My favorite teas are black Pu-erh and green Genmaicha.

Pu-erh is an earthy tea. Its scent alone transports me to a dark woods.  One sip and I feel I’m walking on a soft forest floor inches thick with fallen, decaying leaves and pine needles.  Moss grows around tree trunks and drapes over the rocks that line my trail.

Genmaicha is light and clear by comparison.  It’s roasted with brown rice that softens bitterness and adds a warm, contented note. When I drink Genmaicha I think of standing in an open field with the sun on my back and a broad, cloudless sky above.

But to enjoy the complexity of these teas, they must be brewed correctly. Pu-erh can be brewed forever.  Manhandled.  Genmaicha requires more finesse, water just below the boil and a short brew time.

Thirty-six hours ago, when I posted Mani/Pedi Om, I didn’t know it would be my penultimate weekly (sometimes daily) post.  But as I moved through the day I couldn’t shake the feeling that while I was good at observing life, I wasn’t doing so well at living it.  My life had become as weak and diluted as a cup of tea brewed from a used, day old bag.  Sound familiar?

There’s something missing and I mean to find it.  There’s a gap between what my life is supposed to be and what it has become.

Every time I sit down to write a poem or work on a book proposal or even think about composing a query letter and instead become distracted by Facebook or Twitter or this blog, I’m throwing another bucket of sand on the fire I used to burn with.

I’ve lost track of who I am.  I’m not brave anymore.  I used to be brave.

If I remain glued to this chair, this desk and this laptop engaging in barely witty repartee with people I’ve never met; or if I struggle to be profound in one hundred forty characters or less, I’ll never see Norman Foster’s Millau Viaduct.  I’ll never walk through Tate Modern again, or cry when I see Prague’s St. Vitus’ Cathedral for the first time.  I’ll not drink a pint of the black stuff at a session in Donegal, toss back too much sake and belt out bad karaoke in New York, or play guitar with Mike in Reno.

I’ll never be published.

And I won’t find someone to read to me.  And that is my favorite thing in the world, when someone reads to me.

If I stay here, doing this, I’ll never find out what happens next.  I won’t ever really know how my story is supposed to end.  My only view of the world will come courtesy of Wikipedia.

I learned about Pu-erh and Genmaicha in the garden of the Santa Cruz Zen Center five spring times ago.  A man I knew and maybe loved read TS Elliot’s J Alfred Prufrock to me in the afternoon sun.  We brewed the Pu-erh and Genmaicha.  And then he served sliced oranges dressed in rose water and cinnamon.  I’ve not seen the man for years, but I’ll never forget that quiet, perfect afternoon.

So I’m taking a break for awhile.  It’s time for me to dig a little deeper instead of tossing off six hundred easy words because I can.

Last night I finished reading Karen Armstrong‘s The Spiral Staircase (for the second time).  Towards the end, she talks about the hero’s journey:

The hero has to set off by himself, leaving the old world and the old ways behind.  He must venture into the darkness of the unknown, where there is no map and no clear route.  He must fight his own monsters, not somebody else’s, explore is own labyrinth, and endure his own ordeal before he can find what is missing in his life.  Thus transfigured, he (or she) can bring something of value to the world that has been left behind.

I’m not going on a hero’s journey – at least I don’t think I am – but Armstrong’s words certainly inspire. So do these:

“Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

And I, for one, have no intention of leaving anything out.

Like a Pig in Muck

That’s me.  Wallowing in sorrow like a pig in muck.  That’s what I’ve been doing.  Well, you know what?  My life isn’t about wallowing; it’s about joy.  The past ten days have seen me in a sorry state.  But why?  The weeks before that – beginning as far back as early January – were spectacular. Nothing extraordinary was happening.  I just felt good.  You know – the sort of good that makes every mountain of struggle an easy molehill. That kind of good.  Anything was possible.  And it kept getting better.

Until it all came to a screeching halt about ten days ago.

The Universe gave me a wee nibble of how exceptional life could be.  I was holding the most wonderful gift.  But as I stood there, wondering what to do next, in total disbelief that this was happening to me, the Universe reached down, snatched the treasure out of my hands and said, “Oops, sorry dear.  Did you think that was for you?  Sorry for the mistake, love, but you can’t have this.”

The Universe is a real tease.  (I’d prefer to use slightly saltier language right about now but it’s not my style.)

Hence the wallowing.

But what’s a chronic optimist to do?  Here’s the thing:  I can kick adversity’s ass.  My ability to put a positive twist on circumstances has driven my more pragmatic friends to drink.  I’ve been labeled a Pollyanna, naïve, vulnerable and, on occasion, just plain stupid.  I expect the best to happen.  Always.

It’s a curse.  There should be a ten-step program for people like me.

Because when the best doesn’t happen, when the errant curve ball I didn’t see coming slams into my chest at one hundred and ten miles per hour, it hurts like hell.

Still, I can only give myself so much wallow time.  As far as I’m concerned it’s better that I let my heart hold on to how wonderful it was to hold the gift at all rather than blacken it with all this feeling sorry for myself baloney.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Besides, we really don’t know how these things are going to turn out.  Anything could happen.  Right?  Right.

On another note entirely this article in the latest Newsweek – the one with my beloved George Clooney on the cover – expresses my concerns about the development of Yoga in the West.

And when this article showed up on my Facebook feed I had to respond:

There is enough competition in life.  Enough opportunity to feel not good enough.  To feel a failure.  That is not why I practice Yoga.  I practice Yoga to open my spirit to possibility and to fill my heart with joy.  I practice Yoga to recover and to return to a place of peace when my life feels broken.

And sometimes, even a chronic optimist’s life feels broken.

Day One

A tape measure.

Image via Wikipedia

1 January 2011

I slept in until 7:30 this morning, climbed out of bed and while the kettle boiled for tea practiced 5 Golden Seed.  As the tea brewed I stepped on the scale, took note and stepped off.  I found the tape measure hiding under some old bottles of nail varnish and wrapped it around my chest, then my waist and finally, my hips.  I took a deep breath and recognized the truth:  I need more exercise.  But to be honest, the only thing convincing me to get off my bottom and into the gym is the very fact that the last thing I want to do is get off my bottom and into a gym.

It all began with the first manuscript about the Women Airforce Service Pilot (still languishing in a drawer awaiting re-writes, by the way).  I sacrificed trips to the gym for writing time.  Why trudge all the way over to the local Y when I can just throw on my trainers and jog around the block? Turns out that didn’t work out so well for me.

(By the way, I’m deliberately not divulging my weight and measurements.  This isn’t a debate about body image, it’s about health.  Let’s just say it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it’s bad enough.)

I was full of excuses and I lost the goal of entering mid-life in peak condition around the same time I found Facebook.  Besides, I teach nine yoga classes a week.  Isn’t that enough exercise?

Sorry.  No.  It’s not enough exercise.  Yoga will keep me flexible.  It will keep my joints mobile.  But cardiovascular?  No.  My style of yoga won’t touch it.

And so, just last week, knowing my day of reckoning would arrive with the New Year, I dragged my sorry, flabby body to my local Jewish Community Center and signed up.  Tomorrow I meet with a personal trainer to find out how dire my situation is and next week I have an hour introduction to the Pilate’s Reformer.  In between, I’ll reacquaint myself to the elliptical and maybe check out the class schedule.  Didn’t I used to love Spinning?

Listen – I know this isn’t going to be easy. I know it’s going to hurt.  And I have concerns – how will I do it all?  How will I juggle classes, private clients, writing AND find time for thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise five days a week?

I’ll keep you posted…

Of course, the diet needs a major overhaul as well…