Feeling the Tribe

I still don’t live with my tribe.

And although this is hard for me, lately I’ve heard a lot of people from many different places say the exact same thing. Even people who live in notoriously cool places.

I heard a podcast this week in which a pretty famous writer said that even thought he lives in Austin, TX, which is a pretty  artsy place, most of the people he feels closest to live elsewhere, and he connects with them online.

It seems obvious that a yoga teacher living in Mansfield, PA, population 3600, might not be living with her tribe, but a writer in Austin,?

So maybe I shouldn’t think it’s so depressing to be living in a place with no grocery store, or art, or activism, or people with any obsessive passions whatsoever.

Maybe I just need to “Suck it up, Sally” and get used to ordering my organic food online (or drive to another state to get it) and get my art fix from reading about it on the internet, and console myself with written accounts of people living with passionate intensity.

Maybe this is what most people do. Maybe this is just normal and I should quit whining, thinking I am the only one.

Today I went to Ithaca. The last time I was there was in January for my Winterlude.  Ithaca is where I feel a strong tribal affiliation. The people are engaged and bright and interesting, because most of them are invested in some kind of project. And when I have even the briefest of conversations with anyone, and they sketch out their lives for me,  it always makes me feel amped and inspired.

But my biggest inspiration in Ithaca is Zee.

Today she gave a benefit reading at the Tompkins County Public Library, and since Sandy so generously subbed for me, I was able to attend.  The reading was stellar, but what was even better was the vibe of love for Zee in that room. She has built a particular tribe around writing, and the love of books, and reading, and creativity.

About 50 of us smiled and laughed as she told stories  (half fictional/half autobiographical) of a spunky, sassy girl negotiating the confusing, and often absurd world of family and friends.

When it was finished we gave her a standing ovation. The whole day warmed my heart. And the icing on the cake was that it was even a warm day: in the 60s and sunny!

It was so sweet, and so comforting to walk the .streets of Ithaca and feel a part of Zee’s tribe.

Thinking back on Elizabeth Gilbert’s post yesterday, I want to remember that even though some tribes are toxic and you have to abandon them, the power of true and deep belonging is as rare as it is transformative. And I felt that spark of transformation today.

Thanks, Zee.

Thanks, Ithaca.

Namaste.

 

 

 

Where I Work

Sometimes people will ask me where I work.  There is something about the word “work” that makes me recoil. “I don’t really work.” I’ll say, “I teach yoga.”  But lately I’ve been thinking about that and it seems to me that I do “work” only it’s not work in the “Omg, it’s Monday and I have to go back to work!” kind of work.

But I do work. I put in lots of hours. I plan and I do computer-y things and I answer emails and a million other kinds of little jobs.  But I thought I would devote this post to showing you where I really work.  This is my lab. This is where I work out my sequences that I will teach; this is where I go deep; this is where I do hundreds of rounds of pranayam and many hours of meditation.  This is where I consult anatomy books and then try experiments on my own body. This is where I do the Yoganand workouts and the Yoga Today workouts. This is where I work.

I teach at a studio, but this little spare bedroom in my house is where I work.

This is my mat:

yoga mat

I practice on a Manduka Pro in Black Cherry. On top of it, I have a Gaiam full-length yoga towel because my practice gets really sweaty and I need the extra grip. I love this towel because it has grippers on the underside and will not slip.

mat

This is the mat from another angle. Another prop that I am totally in love with is my Hasta Pada strap. If you are still using a regular yoga strap, and you use a strap a lot in your practice, definitely get this one.  It will change your practice. It will make your life so much easier.

mirror

I recently got a mirror for my studio after getting one for my home studio. I don’t use it very much, but when I need to check my alignment it really comes in handy. All yoga rooms should have a full length mirror.

prop basket

This is my prop basket. It has blocks, hair bands, mat wash and an assortment of stretchy bands. I recently bought those 2 cork blocks you see in the front and I love them. I use foam blocks at the studio and they are fine, but these cork ones are heavy and solid and support me so much better. Those 2 pink ones in the basket? Pieces of shit. You want them?  Hate them. They have cut outs for your fingers and I thought they would be great but they are not. Live and learn. Beyond the basket, you will notice 2 bolsters under my weight bench. I am using them to try to stretch my quads by lying back over them. They too, are a Manduka product and I love them.

That folded up thing is the poncho I wear during meditation.

yoga journal

This is my yoga journal and all the stuff I am working on at the moment: bakasana prep poses, astavakrasana prep poses, anatomy books, I am always writing things down, consulting books and magazines and just working it out.

altar

I don’t have an altar at the studio but I do have one here at home. Sometimes I light incense, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I light the candle, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I pick a flower and put it in the ikebana bowl, sometimes I don’t. But I like my Buddha statue and the card that says:

altar close

This is where I work. I love my work. I love my warm little space where I can close the door every morning and do what I need to do.

buddha

The Yoga Lounge

Just as the last student left my Happy Hour Yoga class this evening, my daughter called from Portland, OR.  I was just finishing up at my desk in the lounge, so it was perfect timing.  I kicked back into one of the comfy Poang chairs in the lounge and had good long chat with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

In one of my favorite places in the whole wide world.  Here, for anybody who has never been to my studio, is the lounge where people congregate before and after class (and sometimes waaaay after class, to have great conversations, or to just shoot the breeze.

Yoga Lounge

The studio itself is in the next room and that is where all the transformational magic really happens. But a lot of good times have been spent in this room, too.  If you’ve never visited, you should.  We’ll drink tea, sink into the Poang’s, put our feet up, and just chill.

Happy Friday, everyone!

 

A Whimsical Vacation

I woke up in my own bed this morning after a week at the beach, wondering: What is a vacation, really?

Is it breaking the habitual patterns, and living pattern-less for a while?

(I almost wrote: Living a more “natural” pattern.)

Maybe. Let me just explore it here for a bit.

I consider myself very lucky because I get to determine my life’s pattern to an extraordinary degree.

By that I mean that everything I do is something that I like to do, and choose to do. I don’t have distasteful things thrust on me as a result of the vicarious whim of some other being (like a boss or a superior) who may, (misguidedly) think that I ought to do something other than what I like or choose to do. But even the things I like and choose sometimes feel like they OWN me.

I love to teach yoga, for instance, and I have made a deep commitment to teaching yoga in the form of a lease agreement, a website, and ongoing classes.  It’s what I DO and I love it, but it shapes my day in a very particular way.  (I am thinking of this “shaping” the way a jello-mold shapes jello.)

I have made a yoga-shaped dent in this mold and into this dent I pour my time and energy.  There are other things that “dent my mold,” too, things I have made commitments to such as meditation, a writing practice, dog-ownership, house ownership, and a particular geographical location.

All these things shape my days.  For instance, I have to make sure I get to bed at a particular hour every night because I teach an early morning yoga class.  I have to walk my dog, because I have chosen to share my life with a pet.  I have a deep need to shape the floating contents of my brain once a day (at least) so I have a writing practice.  I need a certain period of quiet and introspection each day to insure balance and happiness.  I live in a particular geographical locale that demands adjustments from season to season: snow shoveling and leaf raking and plant watering–to name a few.  So this is the “mold” I have made.  I made it, but it also makes me.

For instance, today I will go to the studio and mop it, and clean mats, and vacuum, not because I necessarily want to do those things, but because I want to practice in a clean, dust-free space in the morning.

For most weeks and months of my year, I operate within this pattern. It makes me and I make it.  But when I go on vacation, I do not have this mold, this pattern.  I float free and fluid.

On vacation, I don’t have a business, or a dog, or students. I don’t have a lawn to mow or plants to water or even reliable food “staples” in the fridge with which to cobble together a dinner, or even a breakfast.  There is no mold, so I am free in a most peculiar and exciting and wondrous way.  “Wondrous” because I am constantly asking: I wonder what I will do today? The whole day is entirely up to me.  I can be completely whimsical.

I love the word “whimsy.”  It’s often used to condemn irresponsible, thoughtless behavior, and adults who are described as “whimsical” are often thought to be childish or wishy-washy, or un-count-on-able.

But that is precisely how I want to feel on vacation.  If I feel like reading all day?  I read all day. If I feel like taking a nap? I take a nap. If I feel like eating ice cream, drinking beer, going for a walk, riding a bike, taking a photograph, dancing to loud music, pounding a half-dozen crabs with a wooden mallet, taking a yoga class, sipping some Perrier, watching people walk the boardwalk, I do it.  There is no pre-set mold I have to conform to.  I have no commitments. I do what I feel like doing in the moment.  I am totally and unabashedly, whimsical.

I learn a lot about myself whenever I take a vacation. (And my vacations are not all of the purely whimsical variety.)

Last year I spent a vacation climbing mountains in Yosemite.  There was very little “whimsy” in that vacation.  There was a lot of planning, and thinking and strategizing.  There was a beginning, a middle, and an end to each hike, (as well as mile-markers), and these hikes required determination, and persistence and sometimes even “gutting-it-out” moments.  And that too, felt like breaking the mold, freeing myself from some pre-determined formula of living.  Each hike had a very definite shape (geographically as well as psychologically) that demanded a commitment.  But it still felt like a true vacation because it smashed to smithereens the usual jello-mold that shapes the majority of my days, weeks and months.

This morning I woke up in my own bed for the first time in a week.  “Yes.  Here is my life,” I thought.  “The cat needs her flea meds today, there is a lot of laundry to do, I need to get to the studio and check on things.”

Today I am starting to pour myself back into my mold, but I can still feel that whimsy in my bones.  My skin is browner and warmer than it was a week ago The range of my eyes have still not adjusted back to the near distances, but are still set to the focal distance of a horizon line where the sea and sky meet.

At the beach, I got everywhere I wanted to go on a pink bicycle.  As I pedaled to yoga class, the juice bar, the beach, I found myself thinking, “I really LIKE who I am at the beach. I LIKE living whimsically.  I like this me who gets up before dawn, who sips coffee watching for the reluctant sun to peek its red head out of the sea, who allows herself to drown for days in a long novel, who dances with complete abandon to throbbing, primal beats in a loud crowded bar all night, then staggers home, wet and dizzy with happiness.

I returned home last night from this vacation wondering if there was any possible way I could keep even a little bit of this whimsy in me as my usual life resumes.

I am wondering if there some way I can protect a little part of me from completely jelling into duty and schedule and responsibility.  I am wondering how to keep some of my “jello” liquid and sloppy and drippy, and not have it harden into the mold of the calendar, the season, and the to-do list.

Small Is The New Big (reverb10 Day 3)

Vernal (left) and Nevada waterfalls in Yosemit...
Image via Wikipedia

How come it is that whenever I feel most alive I also feel my mortality most vividly?  What is it about high mountain ranges that makes me feel so…so…

What I feel is small and large at the same time.  I feel small on the outside, but large on the inside.  I feel the smallness of my problems.  They feel petty and mewling and narcissistic and of utterly no consequence–as does my life.

I have the “looking at the ant moment” of feeling that all my plans, and aspirations, and the things I want to do, and everything I care so desperately and passionately about are  completely inconsequential.  I go through the existential “So what” moment, feeling that nothing matters, but not in a nihilistic way, but in a happy, clean, Zen way.  It’s more like “Oh!  Wow! Nothing matters! Great! I’m free! ” rather than, “Well, alrighty then. Nothing matters. Let’s have another drink.”

Big difference.

So I’m supposed to tell what it smelled like on the mountain and what it sounded like and what its texture was.  It smelled like granite and it was the texture of a complex Indian carpet and it sounded like the inside of a crystal vase.  And there was dizzy, incalculable space.

The Panorama trail in Yosemite in the Sierra Mountains has steep inclines and a narrow bridge that spans the Merced River which foams white in early summer.

We passed 2 donkeys tied to a tree who had carrried chain saws and gas cans up a steep way so that trail maintenance crews could cut down dead sequoia trees.

A few miles in a vista opened up and I clutched  Edie’s arm and said, “It can’t get any better than this.”  We walked  farther and around another turn another vista opened up and I said, “Cancel what I said earlier.  It can’t get any better than THIS.”  And then still further I had to stop because the whole world opened up at my feet and I had to sit to comprehend it.  I said to Edie:  “Let’s stay here forever. And promise you’ll scatter my ashes here when I die.”

Because when I saw this place I thought of death, my individual death.  Because in the face of what I was seeing, my individual death seemed of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. The only thing that was of consequence was sky and rock and tree and river, and beyond that ether and vastness and on and on and on.

The puniness of my life became so evident, but it wasn’t a bad or a sad thing.  It was just a fact.  The puniness of most lives is a fact.

Which doesn’t take me off the hook to live well and consciously and meaningfully and to be kind and courageous and sweet and helpful.  Not at all. In fact, life is even more precious in the face of my puniness.  My inconsequential and puny life is all the more miraculous in the face of sky and rock and tree and river.

The way I look at the ant is the the same way the sky looks at me: I am a curious little thing down there.  Very busy and self-important and self-involved.  Working very hard at her little task.  Kind of admirable too, the way she carries her dead, and makes the collective hill a little higher, and drags that huge piece of crumb so very, very far.  Look at her go!  She works very hard, that little one.

The prompt for today was to pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. That was it. In the face of my mortality, I knelt and said a prayer of gratitude for my little life.

What I Have Been Doing While I’ve Not Been Here

Cover of "The Happiness Hypothesis: Findi...
Cover via Amazon

Last week I finished reading Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project and now I am deeply involved in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis and I went to the new Victoria theater in Blossburg and saw the movie Social Network and today the plumber was here all day installing a new kitchen sink and faucet.

And last week I also started a new meditation streak and tonight I start a new series of Meditative Posture Flow yoga and this weekend I am teaching a workshop on How-to-Meditate called: Meditation: It’s Not What You Think.

Oh, and leaves!  I almost forgot about the leaves!  Raked leaves yesterday.

Love raking leaves!!! So much more fun than shoveling snow!  So much lighter, crispier, drier, warmer!  Leaves!  Yesss!  Snow!  No!  And today the big sucker machine came and sucked them all up: thwoop!

And speaking of suck, my vacuum doesn’t.  So it does. I put out a request on Facebook for vacuum suggestions and holy comment stream!  35 people weighed in on vacuums.  I clearly hit a nerve.  Nothing I have ever written on FB has gotten such a response.  People are inordinately in love with their Dysons, that’s all I have to say.  (People: You and your Dyson’s should get a room. Srsly.)

And Lowes opened in Mansfield and I like home improvement stores (not as much as bookstores and office supply stores and Starbucks, but I do like them, even though I don’t understand most of the stuff.  (For e.g. Dremmels.)  But tile and carpet and red washing machines are pretty, for sure.  And certain wood. And certain plumbing. And the maze of sample kitchens that I always get lost in.

Fun.

That’s what I’ve been doing, more or less when I’ve not been writing here.

Oh, oil.  Forgot about the oil.  Oh well, I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

 

Everyone Is Enlightened But Me

The weekend at the beach was perhaps the best time I ever had there.  The weather was perfect, the water temperature was 70 degrees warm, the surf was amazing–strong and forceful and foamy.

Our place was just “eh” but it was 100 steps from the beach and tucked away behind Rehoboth’s only Juice Bar, so I just walked down the steps to get my juice every morning: carrot, apple, ginger.  Yum.

In the evening I had a blast dancing to great music and met a great crowd of very fun people.

All the beach rituals were observed: sunrise, Starbucks Triple Venti soy lattes meditation, yoga in the afternoon, and dancing at the bar at night.

The beach was its typical “Where’s Waldo” crush of beach towels, umbrellas and dysfunctional families and I loved it all.   Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart was my book of the weekend, and at one point he suggested trying this exercise:

Imagine that everyone you see and encounter is enlightened–everyone except YOU. And all those people are buddhas, there to teach you something you need to know.  That would have included, for me, the crying babies, the whining kids, the sullen teens, the overbearing parents, and especially the people with no sense of personal space and boundaries. All of them were buddhas, all of them were enlightened!

It was a great exercise for me because instead of getting peeved at some petty, trivial behavior, I had to adjust my normal, “Oh you are such an A-Hole judgment and think instead: Oh, rude little whipper-snapper, you’re just trying to teach me patience, or, you badly parented little kid having a tantrum, you’re trying to teach me compassion and acceptance.

Try it sometime.  It’s a very cool exercise.  Everybody is Enlightened but you.