On Giving Up Fear For Lent

Today I went and got ashes.

I looked Rowena in the eye as she made the smudgy sign of the cross on my forehead, saying , “From dust you came and from dust you shall return.”

I am not a Christian. I lost faith in all that a long time ago, but I must confess I still like a little ritualized discomfort. (I smile remembering all my Lenten “givings up” as a child, some of  which were pretty hardcore.)

When I realized today was Ash Wednesday, and Rowena texted that she might be a little late for our meeting because she was distributing ashes at a service at the University (Rowena is an Episcopal priest), I texted her, “Would you put ashes on me if I came??

She replied: “Of course.”

So I went.

I’ve been reading Brené Brown and Amanda Palmer lately and wishing I had the courage to be more like them, to risk vulnerability like they describe, and do.

Even before going for the ashes, though, I had decided to give up fear for Lent. Not all fear, just a small subset: The fear of writing and sucking at it.

I liked  the prospect of the ashes, especially administered by my friend, as the perfect  ritualized sealing of my intention.

As I walked home in the biting February wind, my hat covering the blotch of dirt on my forehead, I felt the energy shift in my body, just like I used to feel in all those childhood Lenten years.

We are born of ash and return to ash, that is certain. All we have is the interval between, to live with as much courage and vulnerability as we can muster.

I am going to try to be here every day for the next 40, giving up fear for Lent.




The 1 Thing I Am Good At

Yesterday I completed Day 750 on 750words.com

Milestone, I think. No badge for that, but still, the symmetry pleases me.

The one thing I am good at is sticking to things. If I commit to it, I do it.  It’s the one thing my friends and students always say they wish they could do, too.

So lately I have been wondering what to offer at my studio in January. What can I offer that my students might want to learn? What can I teach them that I myself know how to do? Inversions? Arm balances? Hells no. I suck at those.

The big thing they always tell you in yoga teacher training is: Teach What You Know. So it’s unlikely that I will be teaching handstands in the middle of the room any time soon.

But when they tell you “teach what you know” they don’t clarify a few essential things, like: teach only those postures which you yourself have mastered? Or do they mean, only teach those postures that you know how to TEACH?

For example, I can’t do a handstand in the middle of the room, but if I have a super strong student who is kicking up freestyle and almost nailing it but not quite, I could go over and give that person some tips, or advise them to work at the wall a little longer so as not to injure themselves.

But should I just say, “No handstands in this room, please. That is not something I can allow you to do because I, myself do not practice handstand?”

Who knows.

But all that aside, what I do know how to do is practice consistently. My favorite Yoga Sutra goes something like this: A practice that is truly grounded is done incessantly, with reverence, for a long time.

I am good at “incessantly.” I am good at “for a long time.” (I am working on “with reverence.”)

Like 750 words. I have not missed a day for 750 days. That’s 25 months. That’s over 2 years.

I stayed with Holosync for 456 days, which was 15 months, well over a year.

I have been journaling in paper journals since I was 23 years old. Not every day, but consistently enough for me to have amassed an alarming quantity of notebooks in the basement. That’s 37 years of journaling.

I have completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training at Kripalu, a 500 hour yoga teacher at Kripalu, and just recently another 500 hour yoga teacher training at Pranakriya.

This year I completed National Novel Writing Month by writing over fifty thousand words in twenty-eight days.

I have completed the Clean Program, not once, but twice, going 21 days without sugar, alcohol, flour, caffeine and other assorted inflammatory foods.

I have gone on long yoga streaks of not missing a day of practice for hundreds of days. So I think have some street cred when it comes to doing things for a long time. I am good at making commitments and sticking to them. Most people cannot seem to do this, but if they could, they would gain a lot of self-confidence and self-satisfaction from which they could build a life where their projects moved from the “maybe some day” realm into the “I am making this happen” realm.

So what I am thinking of doing is offering to help my students do this for themselves. Because there are tricks to it, and certain mind games that I play to keep these streak things going, and I so I think I will hatch a scheme where I offer to help my students do this through a yoga practice and other little tricky things.

Because most people aren’t lazy or undisciplined, they just self-sabotage. They start too big, or they start too unrealistically. Little baby steps and accountability are what is needed.

167 Day Yoga Streak Ends

yoga journal

The other day my 167 day yoga streak, the one I kept track of in that journal up there, came to an end. That’s almost 6 months of daily practice. Over.

I’m sad about it. Really sad.

If you’re a regular here, you know I write about streaks a lot. I am, by nature, a streaker. I like to say “streaker” rather than “disciplined,” because while it takes discipline to keep a streak going, I don’t like to focus on all that grit-your-teeth, nose-to-the grindstone kind of stuff, because the truth of the matter is that I’m not a grindstoney person. Hate grindstones, in fact. And grit? In my teeth? Please. My periodontist just complimented me on my excellent hygiene. We will have none of this grit.

I only streak things I really, really love, so to be all solemn and hair-shirt about it would go completely against the grain.

Because a key tenet of my life philosophy is this: “If it’s not fun, it’s not done.”

By “fun” I don’t mean laugh my ass off, piss my pants kind of fun, (though I stand for that, too.)  But fun in the “interesting, ” intriguing,” “fascinating,” even “challenging” sense.  Like climbing a really high mountain is “fun,” or running a marathon is fun.

So I had this 167 day love-fest-streak-thing going with my daily yoga practice: the private practice I do in my home yoga room in my crappy tee and baggy harem pants that have stains on them.

The practice I do when no one is home to become alarmed at the crashes and thumps of my body flailing about, hitting the ground, crashing into walls, or at the moaning, groaning and heavy breathing that sounds more like I’m having hot sex with myself than doing a “spiritual practice.”

But then I caught this this cough/cold thing and I felt crummy in the mornings. I’d drag myself to my mat for a “streaker keeper” practice: the barest minimum I could do with integrity to keep the streak in tact.

Then, the other day I over-did it cleaning the studio and came home dragging my cough, cold AND a really cranky QL (quadratus lumborum) aka: low back pain. I did the Advil thing, but I couldn’t sleep without waking up, so the next day…

I did not practice.

Streak ended.

So per my own rules about streaks, I now confess publicly that this one is over, and it is time to start a new one. Building from scratch. Day after day, for as long as I can.

And with the Yoga Challenge starting at the studio on Sunday, the timing couldn’t be better.

Feeling My Mettle

The other night I led Bakasana (Crow) prep poses, but when we got to the actual POSE, I really couldn’t hold it for very long. Two of my younger, more bendy students were rocking it though,  and even trying advanced variations.

I was trying to help them achieve some of these variations, but I couldn’t demo what I was trying to explain, and so as I walked home from class I found myself a little grouchy, a little sad, and  a little on edge.

I get very frustrated whenever I am not able to demo, or do, advanced asana in class. It makes me question my helpfulness as a teacher. I understand, in my mind, that some poses are simply not going to take shape in my particular body at this time, either because I am not strong enough, or because I lack sufficient openness in my hips, or simply because my bones won’t allow it.

But I also know that if I work towards these poses,  and if that work is performed patiently, with reverence, and for a long time, my body can probably express any shape I wish.

That’s because if there is one thing I do know how to do exceedingly well, it is practice. I know how to sit down on my mat and begin. I know how to dial-in quickly, and, without a lot of fanfare, stay dialed-in –on everything, including that endless running head-chatter about how impossible it all is.

When I enter my practice room these days, time slows waaay down, then it seems to stop completely.  An hour or so later I emerge and can hardly speak, or even remember what transpired.

As I am nearing the 5-month mark in my daily yoga streak, I am feeling really different, really  strong–not in my body, though there is some of that, but in what I am made of; I feel my “mettle,” so to speak.  I am feeling the results of 150 days of good, sustained practice, and it feels really, really good.

Lent, Mallo Cups, and the Resistance Monster

Raise your hand if you ever gave up candy for Lent.

(My hand did not go up.)

But even still, I always find myself craving Mallo Cups this time of year because every kid in my Catholic school gave up candy for Lent.  And Mallo Cups were the big Lenten sacrifice.

We were told we should give up something we really LOVED for Lent, and for most of the kids I hung with that was candy.

Not me, though.  I took this Lent thing to a whole new level of suffering and austerity because I secretly liked Lent.  Lent was a dark, minor key kind of time on the liturgical calendar, and I was a sad, minor key kind of a kid. I actually liked it when the statues got draped in purple and there were Stations to go to every Friday.

So instead of Mallo Cups I gave up my pillow for Lent. Because even back then, I loved my sleep, and all the accoutrements of sleep: fluffy pillows, quilts, nice sheets, etc.  So I put my pillow under my bed for Lent and slept on my mattress for 6 neck-kinking weeks. And to make it even more painful, I also short-sheeted my sleep time by getting up at 5 and walking to 6 o’clock Mass every morning. And as if that hair shirt wasn’t itchy enough, I put little stones in my saddle shoes so my feet would bleed as I walked  After all, if Jesus could hang on the cross for me, it was the least I could do. Right?

(I needed serious counseling.)

Yessiree, I made those Mallo Cup giving-up kids look like total pussies.  (They, of course, had no idea I was doing this, or I would still be eating lunch by myself.)

But here I am, decades later, on the eve of Lent, still thinking about what I might give up for the next 6 weeks.

Turns out I don’t get into pain and suffering the way I used to. And self-flagellation? Eh. Over-rated.

What I am thinking of giving up this year year is my resistance to doing stuff I want to do, but because of some strange virus in my operating system I can’t bring myself to do.

That make sense?

Like this blog. When I write here regularly I feel good. I especially like going back into the archives and looking at what I was obsessing about a year or 2 ago on a given date. But when I go back and I didn’t write, I’m disappointed. I think when you start something like this, you ought tend it.  Or else kill it humanely and be done with it.

So I’ve decided that this year for Lent I am giving up not writing here. For the next 6 weeks I am going to put the stones in the saddle shoes, as it were, and just post something everyday.  It will take courage to vanquish this ugly little resistance monster who has been sitting like a threshold guardian at the gates of Wordprss, pointing and laughing at me, telling me I don’t have anything to say.

Mardi Gras Buddha Dog

The First Post of the New Year

It’s been a slow day. Kind of introspective. Spent a lot of time going back through archives just to see what I was resolving to do this time last year.

This is the day of resolutions and I like resolutions, but I always wind up not doing them. I don’t feel bad about that mostly, because I end up doing other wonderful things instead.

Who can know in January, how things will be in June? So I am getting more relaxed about resolutions and goals, thanks in large part to reading Zen Habits and really resonating with Leo.

But to briefly recap: The two things I am happiest about this year are my ongoing and unbroken streaks: 400 days without a miss in 750 words, and nearing 100 consecutive days of personal yoga practice, not teaching yoga.

I just got back from a 5 Day training at Kripalu with Yoganand, and the training and the timing could not have been more perfect. I left the day after Christmas and returned the day before New Year’s Eve.

I now feel de-toxed from all the butter cookies and other holiday indulgences, and am happily back to my usual diet of kale, brown rice and lemon water.

I have decided not to make resolutions this year, but instead, try to envision the psycho-spiritual place I would like to be in next year and figure out the steps and behaviors it would take for me to get there.

Here’s what I have come up with thusfar:

  • I want to continue to deepen my yoga practice and add a consistent meditation practice to it.
  • I want to continue with 750 words and also with the writing in my Scrivener Project
  • I want to read at least 12 books and write about them here.
  • I want to finally learn my camera and take more, and hopefully better, pictures.
  • I want to gradually change the focus of this blog so that it reflects more accurately, and vividly, my real life. In line with this, I also want to post more regularly, but keep the posts to 200 words or less, (but include more pictures, and maybe even video.)

That seems like plenty, given the hours in the day.

Care to share what you have up your sleeve for this year?

One Year of 750 Words

Warning: Horn-Tooting to follow

Yesterday I got my Pegasus Badge on 750 Words. This badge marks 365 days of posting without a miss.  Here’s a screenshot of my page as it looked this morning when I logged in:

Pegasus Badge! One Year of 750 words!

I was never a Girl Scout so I never had the satisfaction of earning Merit Badges, but this is what I imagine it must feel like to finally finish crocheting that last damned  potholder, or squire that last widow safely through the intersection.

Holy wow.

The Pegasus Badge.

I must say, it feels sweet. And now, on to the Space Bird! (that will come at Day 500.)

But as happy as I am about 750 Words, I did not win NaNoWriMo. Not even close. I got to about 15K words and bonked.

Spinning plates smashed.  Shards everywhere.

I kind of knew it last week when I posted here, that I had about a snowball’s chance.  All week I have been dreading having to confront the reality of my failure. I have been trying to figure out what lessons could be learned from the wreckage, and what my response should be.

One good thing that came of NaNoWritMo was that I finally learned how to use the software program, Scrivener after a year of having it lie dormant in my Applications folder. I did not learn  every feature of Scrivener lord knows, — that will take years. But I learned a lot.

So what I did yesterday in response to the NaNo failure was open a “New Project” in Scrivener. I created a separate folder for every day in December and I set up a “Word Count Target” for each of those folders, and a “Project Target Word Count” as well.

(See? This is why I love Scrivener. You can do all kinds of stuff like this.)

And I now plan to do in December what I tried, and failed, to do in November: Write 1,667 words a day for 30 days.

I learned a lot about myself as a writer this past year doing 750 words a day, and now I plan to apply this knowledge to this “New Project.”

Here is what I now know:

  • If I think what I write has to make sense, I won’t write.
  • If I think what I write will be evaluated or graded by someone, I will resist and procrastinate endlessly, until I am forced to write at gunpoint.
  • If I think it has to be informative or witty or interesting, I won’t write.

The only way writing gets done for me is if I approach it as an amusing pastime, like doodling. And the only way it can be amusing for me is if I take myself totally off the hook as far as quality goes. If quality happens: Surprise!  But in order to even start, I must give myself carte blanche to scribble (or tap out) complete and utter nonsense.

I will, however, happily write to a specified volume of words, as long as I have time and those words don’t have to make sense or be “good” in any sense of that word.

I will also write daily, and not miss a single day (see Pegasus Badge above) as long the writing is permitted to have the smell and texture of cat vomit.

And as for this blog. I still don’t know what I am going to do with it. I changed themes yesterday to give myself the illusion of a “fresh slate” but I’m not going to make any commitments here yet. I’m just going to see what happens.

Till the next time!