A New Practice

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To say it has been a busy few months is an understatement.

A friend asked the other day, So, how do you feel now that its all over?  She was referring to the conclusion of two years of study at Sofia University and the success of my final paper (which you can read here), my year-long adventure in yoga-therapy training at Niroga Institute, and the end of Samyamas first 8-week teacher training program, The Dharma Path, where I had the honor of assisting John Berg in the teaching of asana and methodology.

Are you excited?  Or is there a void?

The possibility of there being a void in my life was something I hadnt considered.  But Hillarys question encouraged me to step back and assess how it felt to reach the end of this hectic and amazing chapter.  When I did, I realized there is indeed a gaping hole where writing assignments and reading texts and lesson preparations used to reside.  The undercurrent of urgency that roiled through my psyche has mellowed to a gentle ramble.  The fractal-esque symmetry of lifes repeating pattern of work, teach, study, sleep, work, teach, study, sleep has been disrupted.  Like a Jenga tower with one too many blocks pulled form its foundation, Im teetering toward the unknown.  Im restless.

And its unnerving.

Its the faith I hold in the order of life that binds my fragile personal yoga practice together.  When my faith is challenged and order is disrupted, my practice is challenged, too.

The charge, however, is not how to keep my practice alive, its how to keep it moving forward.

The key, I think, is to accept this shift in my space/time continuum as a gift.  The end of school and the other recent commitments that took constant and attentive energy did not generate a gaping black hole.  Nor did they manifest a void in my life.  If anything, the end of these commitments created an opportunity for me to see my world and my personal practice with a new perspective.  I have a chance to re-tool my practice and to put the pieces of my life together in a new way.

And thats what I intend to do.  To accept the gift of open space instead of searching for ways to see it filled.  Is it possible that this is what my personal practice was meant to be all along?  That I should allow my arms to open wide and that I should listen – really listen – to the sound of my breath and beating heart echoing in the space of a less busy life?

 


Into the Light

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Into the Woods, Land of Medicine Buddha, Soquel, California

I’m back!

It’s been the longest two years of my life. Yet it flew by and it’s almost over. In January of 2012 I attended my first seven-day Opening Seminar at Sofia University (formerly Institute of Transpersonal Psychology). In a few short weeks I will complete my final requirements and will be set free, the requirements for my master’s degree in hand.

Much of the work at Sofia is experiential – especially in the first year of the program – and it took quite a bit of trust to stay in the program. This was, after all, unlike any master’s program I had read about. How could I be learning if my assignment was to take a two-hour walk in the woods?

And yet, somehow, I was.

The first year charted the course, and without my noticing, refined my thinking. Those first twelve months focused my energy even through my frustration and resistance. It was a struggle and a retreat and not unlike crawling into a spiritual cave.

But this second year? The stone has been rolled away and there’s light. During this second year the curriculum asks us to gather what we’ve discovered during our first year and figure out a way to bring it into the world. This second year asks us to make a commitment. To live, as the cliché goes, by the courage of our convictions.

My final assignment on this two-year journey is to create an e-portfolio. If you go to my Sofia page you’ll be able to view my resume’, mission statement and philosophy. I’m also including some poetry and artwork created over the past twenty-four months. (Since posting this I’ve continued to re-work the presentation of my e-portfolio.  My intention is to blend it seamlessly into the Practically Twisted site rather than holding it as a separate page. To facilitate that I’ll be removing the Sofia page.)

My Transpersonal Integration Paper will be available to read as a separate post pending approval from the Chair of the program. My topic was A Kosha Model for Creating a Yoga Therapy Based Healing Protocol. (Since posting I’ve learned that my paper has indeed been approved!)

So…these two years are nearing an end. I’ve about to complete the masters and I’ve completed the first 500 hours of Niroga Institute’s yoga therapy program. The question is – how will I fill my days?

Is it time to stop collecting pieces of paper? I think so.

I think it’s time to start using what those pieces of paper represent. It’s time.


Ecopsychology – How Do We Fit in the World?

My second quarter at Sofia included a course called Ecopsychology.  I wasn’t really certain what that meant when the course began.  I’m coming to understand, however, how we’ve lost our connection to nature and through suffering that loss we’ve broken an important connection with our spirit and soul.

One of our assignments for the class was to design a small service project to take into the world.  It didn’t have to be big or flashy or showy.  Just something small to rebuild that lost connection.

I’d thought I’d share the first half of the assignment:

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This class, Ecopsychology, got under my skin.

I’m certain it didn’t mean to, but it did. And now I have this whole new way of looking at the world around me.

It began innocently enough. I thought our readings and assignments were simply reminding me of those things I already knew. Things like the fact that somehow we’re all connected. Not just you and me. But all living things. We rely on one another. Our relationships are complex. Sometimes they are reciprocal, sometimes symbiotic. But that’s how the world rolls. We all give a little, take a little and somehow it all balances out. Or at least it should.

I know. I’m making this sound all too simple and Neil De Grasse Tyson could explain with far more eloquence but the truth is – the point I am trying to make – is that we are all in this together. And by we I mean my best friend, my family, the plant on the top shelf of my bookcase, the tree outside my window, the blue sky above the tree, the squirrel dashing across the road (and narrowly missing the FedEx truck), the FedEx driver and Rigby. Rigby is the 9-month-old Portuguese Water Dog that I sometimes take care of. Even Rigby and his loveable puppy brain.

It’s just that the tree and the plant and the sky don’t know they’re part of this. The squirrel doesn’t know it, either. He’s too busy storing nuts for the winter. And Rigby? With his puppy brain? Clueless.

But those of us possessing what we would like to believe is higher cognitive function should know. We should know that we’re all in this together and that the ‘this’ I am writing about is in deep shit trouble.

And that’s what I mean when I say this class got under my skin’.

It reminded me of things I already know, and then it reminded me that we have a responsibility to try to do something about it (at this point, if Rigby had a better command of the English language would cock his head to one side and whine, “Really?”)

Yes, Rigby. We do. And the ‘something’ we choose to do has to be more than hugging a few trees.

 

I’ll admit it. At first my service project was going to be just big enough to meet the requirement, but small enough to not occupy too much of my time. And, no, I’m not proud but I still believed my idea – to write a blog post about water conservation – was reasonable in light of my state’s severe drought conditions.

But given that my blog’s readership can be counted on two hands and a foot the idea of posting five hundred words on how to conserve water didn’t really seem to be an effective way to connect with my role as a human caregiver to the planet. Besides, writing a blog post wasn’t the interactive experience I was beginning to crave.

I wanted a service project that would last longer than the time it takes to post a blog. What could I do?

The answer came to me in the shower. (A very short shower with a water conserving showerhead.) My project would have three components:

 

1)    A blog post about water conservation that can be read at Practically Twisted.

2)    A concerted effort to walk my talk by using grey water from showering and dish washing to flush my toilet.

3)    A second concerted effort to not just walk but to peddle my talk. By the beginning of next month I’ll be using a bicycle as my primary means of local transportation. (Truth-be-told I have an ulterior motive. Exercise! I’ve discovered there’s a direct link between the amount a person studies and an ever-widening backside. It’s time for an ass intervention!)

 

Like I said, this class got under my skin. In a very positive way. I’m already using grey water and the blog post will be up within a day or two. And I can’t wait to start riding a bike again.

This class and this project has taught me to take the time to consider my actions. I notice myself making different choices. I notice myself stepping back to breathe and to witness. And it feels good. It affirms not just my life but all life.

 


It’s True. I am Practically Twisted.

Photo 188I left home for five days at the last week of January to attend a closing seminar that celebrated the end of my first year in the master’s program at ITP/Sofia and the beginning of my second.  I left home believing in one version of me, and returned embracing another.

One of the irritations of being a student of ITP/Sofia is having friends not affiliated with the school ask you (in some cases, repeatedly) So, Mimm, what is it exactly you’ll be able to do with this when you’re done?

How should I know?  The school, after all, is decidedly left-of-center.  Physically little more than two industrial sized single-story buildings in a doublewide parking lot, in truth the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) is filled with individuals who have chosen to study the spiritual heart of the psyche.  I’ve met young PhD candidates leaning toward a career in research and Pagans in the master’s program destined for academia.  I know graduates who a decade later continue to quietly counsel clients struggling to make sense of their lives and shiny new students walking a path deeply entrenched in the search for a higher consciousness.  Somehow they’ve found ITP/Sofia but even here, they stand out in their choice to initiate a journey leading them further from the mainstream.

When I enrolled, my only intention was to find a course of study that would deepen my practice.  And when I chose my second-year specialization, Transformation Life Coaching, I wanted a practical translation of my deepening practice that I could take out into the world.  I wanted to choose a reasonable course.  A safe journey. Something that might lead to a comfortable retirement plan.

I should have known better.  Right or wrong, I’ve never considered a comfortable retirement plan a high priority even though the thought of not having one can, from time to time, induce a pulse quickening panic attack.

It was Day Three of the seminar when I stood in line for a cup of green tea and felt it coming on.  There was a quivering around my heart. Change is something I like to ease into.  I prefer a slow graceful curve to a hairpin turn.  What I was beginning to feel in my heart was neither slow nor graceful. I took my mug into the assembly room and sat by John.  John has been a long distance anchor and older brother to me this past year.  John, I said, I chose the wrong specialization.  And I already bought all the textbooks.

John didn’t hesitate.

Mimm, he shrugged and said, everyone needs more books.

It was as simple as that.  Spending a little extra money (even money that I don’t have) on a few more books is better than being tied to a specialization that was chosen simply so that I could answer the question everyone but me needed an answer to:  What is it you’ll be able to do when all this is done?

We’re heard it before.  That we’re to follow our bliss and let our heart sing.  It sounds so sweet, doesn’t it?  So easy.  But of course anyone who has committed to a life melody based on the song in their heart knows that, in truth, this journey, like all journeys, has moments of difficulty.  Along the way we’re going to hit a few bum notes.

The difficulties we face, however, on a journey that begins from the heart, seem easier somehow.  They feel less like psychic tsunamis and more like rogue waves.  The difficulties we face on journeys begun from the heart are more easily navigated.

It was not my intention to be a full-time student at fifty-five.  But here I am.  And it feels good.  I know I’m not alone on this road and I know I haven’t made the most practical choice.  But I’m all right with that.  My new specialization is Spiritual Psychology.

You’re probably wondering, what will she be able to do with that when she’s done?

Watch this space.


Remarkable Life

October, 1966 detail

October, 1966 detail

In the next few weeks I’ll be completing my first year in Sofia University’s masters in transpersonal psychology program. There were times over these last twelve months when I considered leaving.

I chose the Global Program so I could continue to work. The Global Program allows me to study at my pace according to my schedule. Prior to Sofia my educational experience had been enjoyed from the comfort of a wooden desk, listening to real-time lectures and taking notes from points scrawled on a blackboard. Now I’m learning from the comfort of my cushy green chair (or bed), reading articles from my laptop and participating in online discussions. The learning curve has been steep, at times very uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.

When I began at Sofia caring friends asked, “But what will you do with this?” Why would I choose to put myself into debt for a degree that, even on paper, appears to be on the fringe side of academia? While I appreciated their concern I couldn’t help but feel irritated. Of course I was irritated. I knew I couldn’t answer their question and if I couldn’t answer the question wasn’t I proving their point?

But I stuck with it. Something told me I was on the right path.

And now, a year into the program, it’s clear I chose wisely. The work that I’ve completed this year has been transformative on a personal and professional level.

As my fellow cohorts and I begin the transition into our second year the program becomes more focused. We’ll begin to connect our academic and experiential studies at Sofia to our life path. That, for me, means the work that I do as a teacher of yoga. More specifically, it means the work I do with populations who have yet to experience the new dimension and healing potential a yoga practice can add to their life.

During our second year at Sofia we choose electives as part of our course work load. I chose to apply to Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program. Niroga is in Berkeley, founded and led by the inspiring BK Bose.

Last week I was accepted into the Niroga program, which begins in February. Yes, I’ll be taking my courses at Sofia while studying at Niroga.

Next year is going to be one heck of a year. Thinking about it makes me feel like this girl.

But I’m not a girl. Next week I turn an age where many women begin to welcome grandchildren. That has most certainly not been my path this time around. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept that I didn’t enjoy the life I imagined for myself when I was younger. You know what I mean. The house. The husband and kids. A career trajectory that guarantees a comfy retirement. But then I realize that the life I have – as small as it is – is remarkable.

My birthday wish and Thanksgiving hope is that you take a moment to really see – no matter the trajectory – how truly remarkable your life is.


Spring, Samyama and Teaching Myself to Read

IMG_0617The start of spring is a wonderful thing. Today in Northern California spring is at its best. Clear and crisp with the scent of climbing jasmine in the air. Pale pink cherry blossoms dust the sky. Simply beautiful.

Spring is about rebirth. New beginnings. Happy anticipation. And my life is full of new beginnings and happy, giddy anticipation.

Samyama Yoga Center will host an Open House on Sunday, April 7th. Classes will begin the following day. Samyama is a very special studio. Everyone affiliated with Samyama feels as though they’re part of a family. My first class at Samyama will be on Tuesday, April 9th. I’ll be the 7:00 AM Hatha class on Tuesday and Thursday, a Yin flow class on Friday’s at 1:30 in the afternoon and another afternoon Hatha class on Saturday’s at 4:00.

This week was spring break at Sofia University. I spent the time teaching myself to read. Seriously. Reading for leisure and reading for comprehension are two different skills. I was deficient in the latter, but a few days of practicing the techniques we were taught back in high school – read, identify key points, summarize – has cleared out a few cobwebs. And that’s a good thing. The course that I’ll be diving into next week, Introduction to Transpersonal Theory, promises to be challenge for me.

So four new yoga classes to teach and a new course to tuck into at school. What more could a woman want at the start of a stunning spring?

I can think of a few things I’ll choose to not divulge…

…and A Woman’s Face.

 


My Aura Embraces Your Aura

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

Head wrap and ear plugs at the ready!

I’m anxious. Fidgety, clutched and giggly. In a tizzy.

This is not the state-of-mind one would associate with a yoga teacher. Yet it happens.

Anxiety happens. Because anything could happen. And isn’t it the fear and anticipation of the unknown that trips us up? Starts the spiral and spins the story? But the unknown is just that – unknown. So what’s the problem? It’s all good. As my grandmother may have joked, “Isch ga bibble!”

Yet if I had fingernails, they’d be chewed to the quick. Because my life is going to change this year.

That’s the one thing we can count on. Change. Change is constant. Each moment is new. Some moments of change, however, are more profound than others. And the anxiety and anticipation I’m experiencing is a mix of fear, joy and impending adventure.

It’s as if I’m an audience of one, waiting for the curtain to be drawn back (and hoping that I overcome my aversion to hugs and sharing circles).

On Tuesday I begin two years of study at Sofia University. In March I begin teaching at Samyama Yoga Center. Yes, I’ve mentioned my admission to Sofia and the building of Samyama in previous posts. They are small things in the course of human events. Very big things in the course of this small life.

So how am I handling the anxiety? How do you think?

Yoga. Yoga. Yoga. Breathing. Yoga. Meditating. Yoga. With a few sandbags and head wraps thrown in for good measure.

More specifically:

  • A strong Yang practice featuring plenty of Flying Dragons to burn off the fidgets.
  • A soft Yin practice to open and release.
  • Restorative work featuring the placement of a sandbag on my forehead (yes, seriously).
  • Meditation featuring head wraps and earplugs (yes, seriously).

And finally, embracing this time of deep change and new beginnings with a living, ‘off-the-mat, into-the-world’ daily practice – a practice that will melt rigid trepidation.  A practice that will encourage blissful surrender to the unfamiliar journey I’m beginning.

As for my aversion to hugs and sharing circles? Well, that’s something for me to work on. In the meantime, Samyama’s owner John Berg offered this advice at our last staff meeting, “If someone goes in for the hug, just tell them ‘my aura is embracing your aura’. Works every time.”

And it does.