Lists, Love and Equilibrium

At last, the dust seems to be settling.  How do I know?  I made a list.  This seems like a silly indicator that equilibrium is coming home to roost.  But I am the self-proclaimed Mother of All List Makers. My last impressive list was created in the middle of January from the Embarcadero Hyatt when, disillusioned by the Yoga Journal Conference, I hid out in my hotel room for the weekend and pretended I was on a writer’s retreat. Before that I had my list of New Year’s Resolutions.  And before that it was Fifty Things to Accomplish in My Fiftieth Year (that one began three years ago – I’m still working on it).

Lists are about control.  They make me feel safe.  If I have my list I know where I am supposed to be.  I know where I am going.  Nothing can hurt me or distract me or pull me from my path.  I have my list.  Here’s my list for today:

Monday 11 April

  • 6:00 Rise: Shower, eat, feed Rose & Bella, walk Rose, meditate, post blog
  • 9:00:  Tom in Sunnyvale; d/o new clothes and stuff at home
  • Leave car at Sarah’s (walk)
  • Credit Union
  • 11:00:  FMG
  • Lunch
  • 1:00:  Avenidas
  • Sarah’s:  Rest, write, walk Rose; flowers for Bobbie & Harkins
  • 7:30:  Yin
  • TO DO:  contact Ann re. workshop; follow through on lost paycheck, poop scoop,  look at Abby’s letters from week 4, check submissions, think about query letter for cadaver workshop, drop off envelopes at CYC

It’s very routine.  Nothing exciting.  And it continues to Sunday, when I leave for San Francisco and my weeklong cadaver intensive with Gil Hedley.  The most exciting moment is when I break from my Wednesday evening tradition (staying at home) in order to leave the house for a home cooked dinner with Bettie, Richard and Dena.

This week’s list reminds me of an incident that happened about eight years ago.  I was going though another difficult time and decided I needed to talk with someone.  At my first meeting with a therapist, I brought The Ultimate List. I was so proud.  It proved I really wasn’t troubled.  It proved I had my act together.  The list was eight pages of 10-point single-spaced Helvetica and covered the next five years of my life.  I can still see the astonishment behind the therapist’s attempt to remain neutral. She looked at me and asked,

“Why do you feel you need a list?”

Wasn’t it obvious?

I didn’t remain in therapy for very long – eight years ago there were too many doors I was unwilling to open and the ability to bore cyberspace with musings on some wacky thing called a ‘blog’ was merely a twinkle in some geek’s eye.

We all experience periods of difficulty (even yoga teachers).  The goal, I suppose, is to remain functional while processing the events in our lives that have knocked us off-center.  Lists keep me functional.

The danger is that they can shut us down.  Put us in a box. Lists can create a life so ordered and precise that there is no room for an open heart.  For love and joy.  For connection.

I want love and connection.  But for now, what I need is the safety of my list.

My yoga practice this week will nurture the equilibrium I’m returning to.  There will be plenty of balance poses – including my favorite, Garudasana – and strong standing sequences.  I feel I need the grounding precision of an alignment-based practice this week.  I also need to comfort my heart, and for that I’ll turn to the organic fluidity of Yin.

When you step on your mat this week, take a moment to check in with your emotional state.  If you’re leaning too far to one side, how can your practice help bring you back to center?

There’s Healing in Staying Still

In late May of 2005, on my first full day in America after a decade away in Donegal’s cool and rainy climate I stood outside of my hotel room in the Nebraska sun with my former college art professor.  I was wearing a short-sleeved cotton blouse and cotton trousers.  I remember how those clothes felt strange to me.  Too light.  Too feathery and thin against my skin.  But as we walked to Richard’s car across the blacktopped parking lot at ten o’clock in the morning the sun began to penetrate.  It began to heat my blood and wrap around my bones. I felt my body melt and become limber.  My damp and moldy joints began to flex. For the first time in ten years I felt warm.  Warm through and through.

Today is one of those breezy and blue Northern California days that beg a person to come outside to play.  And while I’m not so much in the mood for playing – despite Rosie the Labradoodle’s persistent attempts – I am in the mood to feel warmth wrap around my bones.  I’m in the mood to be still.  I’m in the mood to close my eyes and experience the change of temperature on my skin as the clouds roll over the sun.

I’ll practice yoga today, but not on the mat.  Today I’ll find my yoga practice in the sound of a kid practicing violin a few doors down, the shouting squawk of two blue jays in the plum tree and the persistent hum of traffic on Homer Street.

While life spins around me, today my body, my heart and my spirit will stay still.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Ouch.  OUCH.  May I please say it one more time?  Ouch.

You may have noticed that my posts have been all over the emotional map for the past ten weeks.  I tried to stay on topic.  But I couldn’t. I was too preoccupied by wildly fluctuating hope, joy and despair.  Manic would be an appropriate description.  And what else other than out-of-control peri-menopausal hormones would bring on such mood swings?  Well, you know what?  I don’t really want to go into it.  Let’s just say it’s time to dust myself off and resume regularly scheduled programming.

As the weeks progressed and it became clear that I was not going to have the happy ending I wanted, I found myself seeking solace in the things I love:  teaching yoga and writing.

My mind would not settle long enough to write anything more than a few short essays.

But the yoga?  The yoga was a blessing.

I filled classes with gentle heart openers and soothing forward bends.  When I needed grounding I took classes through strong Warrior sequences.  When the friendship was going well I celebrated with Flying Dragons.  And when it wasn’t we did Flying Dragons anyway.  In my Yin classes I challenged myself to teach poses that wouldn’t be my favorite.

At home, I began the meditation practice I’ve been talking about since August.

But the last two and half months have left me in this strange place of being grateful for the experience of love and connection – no matter how brief the time was – yet mourning for the tremendous loss.  I’ll admit it.  I’m sad.

It seems sometimes that because we practice yoga, because we are teachers, we somehow have the means to rise above heartache.  It’s not true.  I teach yoga. And I’m human.

Adventures in Seeing

For the optically challenged: plastic orbs that I'll use on the 3-D collages I'm working on. Whoo-hoo!


The one thing we can count on – the one thing we can be certain of – is that things change.

Yes, I spent a good chunk of rainy March wallowing in the mire.  But I knew that somehow, someway, it would cycle through and I’d come home to me again.

I felt the first inkling of an attitude adjustment on Tuesday.  On Wednesday I began to believe it was more than my imagination and this morning – this wonderful, beautiful, sun draped Thursday morning – I jumped out of bed with a smile on my face and charged into the day.

While I can’t put my finger on what triggered it, I can narrow it down to three things:

1.   Six weeks are my limit when it comes to moping around.  I simply can’t stand it any longer.

2.   Something resonated inside when I said to my friend over the weekend “I’m stronger than you.” Perhaps the idea of strength reminded my psyche of the other qualities I have and hold dear – my resilience and my loving nature, the ease with which I forgive, my cheerfulness (it wouldn’t be prudent to begin listing the qualities I possess yet don’t hold as dear…like my predisposition toward envy and my lack of cooking skills…)

3.   And the gift of a coffee mug from a friend and yoga student:

I’m riding the crest of a creative surge.  My kitchen has become an art studio.  I’m juggling three essays, a magazine article and homework for an online course I’m enrolled in.  Tonight I spent a couple of hours doing voice over work for a friend’s website.  She and her husband have an incredible home recording studio and it didn’t take long before we were thinking about creating a new yoga CD.

Tomorrow I’m tackling ‘The Dish’ with a friend.

It feels weird, because it was actually me who opened the laptop and emailed ‘hey, do you want to take a walk?’ I guess I didn’t actually expect him to say ‘yes’.  And yet, he did.  Go figure.

Life can be good.

But things change.  I know they do.  So I’m going to grab this high and hang on for the ride and enjoy it for as long as I can.

Dear Diary…oh, never mind.

My Biological Clock Mixed Media, 24x24 inches

Yes, I know I said I was taking a break.  I am.  I’ve decided to consign the post I left here last night to the dustbin.

My only intention last night was to share this painting that I’ve been working on. Here it is.  In detail.

I’m riding a crazy creative flow.  I’m full of excess energy that I am channeling into collage and yoga and poetry and personal essays. But not blog posts.

The post deposited here last night was yet another rant about that loathsome phrase “it is what it is.”

I say, “it is what you make it.”

We can’t control what life gives us or what it takes away from us – but we can choose our response.  We have, at least, that much power.

The other day I responded to a friend’s question by answering “Because I’m stronger than you.” I can’t even remember what the question was – only that the answer shocked me.  Through all the swinging highs and lows of the past two months I’d forgotten how powerful I am.  How resilient.  But five simple, uncensored words reminded me.

It’s easy to feel physically strong when you practice multiple Flying Dragons or an intense Warrior Sequence.  But feeling emotionally strong is more challenging – especially when it feels easier to believe you have no control.  Especially if you choose to believe ‘it is what it is.’


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.

Mani/Pedi Om

Last Thursday I indulged in a gel French manicure and a pedicure.

My unrecognizable hands now look as though they’re ready to become the newest cast members of any Real Housewives franchise.  My toes, tipped in red, are perky little Phalanges of Joy.

I didn’t stop there.  Lady Clairol stopped by and washed the blossoming swath of grey on the right side of my head away with a box of Medium Cool Brown.

Next stop?  Oh, I think I’ll have someone apply and then brutally rip away molten wax on my lip, chin and a few other places I’d rather not mention. It’s time to take care of the excess hair that has plagued me since puberty.  It’s just what my self-esteem ordered.

If only I could nurture my inner beauty with the same zeal.

I have a difficult time with balance.  I sometimes ignore the shades of gray and go right for the black and white.

This is not a particularly strong quality for a yoga teacher to have.

But I’ve been working on it.

I’ve figured out that I CAN have a pedicure AND care about Japan.  I can wear nice yoga togs and buy the guy who sits in front of Whole Foods a sandwich.  It’s not one or the other.  I can do both.

I can care about my Self without sacrificing compassion for others.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m never going to win any awards for altruism.  I don’t give a percentage of my income to charity, I don’t tithe, and to be honest, the guy outside of Whole Foods sort of bugs me.

Maybe it boils down to give and take, checks and balances.  Or maybe I never quite figured out that we all deserve to have a little fun – a little joy in life.  That includes the guy outside of Whole Foods.  But it includes me, too.

Mani/Pedi Om.