The First Day of Spring

Today it snowed. Two inches of heavy wet snow on this astronomical “first day of spring.”

I got up, made coffee and raisin toast, filled the bird feeders, then headed up to my cozy lair, turned on the space heater and settled in for a long write.

Yesterday a book I had ordered called, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donahue came.

I had come across a poem from this collection recently,  and fell in love with it, so I ordered the volume.

And today, while the snow fell softly, and my room filled with warmth, I sat and read it from cover to cover.

And wept.

And underlined.

And wrote notes to myself so I would not t forget this.

And stared out the window. And thought about my life, and my death, and time and love.

And as the snow continued to fall, I got up and checked the mail, and for the first time in many years there was no letter. And I was sad.

Every year for the past 6 or 7, I have led a Yoga Nidra class on New Year’s Eve and at the end, I offer the people who come the opportunity to write a letter to themselves.

I write one, too. And it always starts like this, “Dear Kath, I have been waiting for you to get really quiet and listen to me because I have so many things I need to talk to you about, darling.”

This is a letter from my soul, my heart, inner wisdom guide. And after yoga nidra, I am so deeply dialed in, that I don’t even write it. I just surrender the pen to her, and she tells me what I really need to know.

When the letter is done, I seal it in an envelope, and collect all the similar sealed, self-addressed letters of the participants, and then mail them all to arrive in mailboxes on the first day of spring.

But this year, I didn’t have the Yoga Nidra class. This year I didn’t write my letter, and so today, there was no letter from my soul.

Maybe that is why the universe sent me the astonishingly beautiful Blessings from John O’Donahue.

Spring has always been my favorite season. From this day until the Summer Solstice, I have always felt, since early childhood, a quickening and a coming to life at this time of year.

Spring does not always have the best weather here where I live in northern Pennsylvania. It is a fickle season of rain and snow. It is a season that teases, then withdraws.

It is often muddy and cold and sullen. But every day is a bit longer than the one before. Every day a new bird arrives at the feeder, a new flower pierces the snow crust.

Tomorrow I think I will write a letter to myself and give it to G to mail to me on the Summer Solstice. I like getting letters from my  spirit in the mail.

But for today I would ask that if you are so inclined, order this John O’Donahue book, and read it in your cozy lair.  I think you will be amazed. I will leave you with this excerpt from his poem ,A Morning Offering:

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers.

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

What I Don’t Love About Yoga

I don’t love all the emphasis on postures and doing postures perfectly.

I don’t love the obsession with achieving the “aesthetic” goals of yoga: The high arching backbends, the Yoga-Journal-perfect expression of Side Crow.

I realize there are also functional goals in yoga, like being able to balance, or getting stronger or more flexible, but to tell the truth, I’m not all that concerned with functional goals either.

I am not all that interested in the body practice of yoga.

The only thing I am interested in is using my body to help me gain mental clarity, or become a more creative problem-solver, or to achieve altered states of consciousness (through intense pranayama,).

And that’s it.

I am not that into yoga postures, but I am totally committed to yoga as a life hack.

I like trying out the insights I get on my mat in my real life and seeing how they play out, how successful they are in allowing me to express myself authentically.

But don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone through intense phases where I was hell-bent on trying to master certain postures. And that was fun, if only because the disciplined day-after-day work made me suppler and stronger.

But the body is just the vehicle for insight, and I don’t think it should be the sole focus of attention in a practice.

I now practice the kind of yoga that uses the body to try to find unexplored channels of energy inside myself. It’s a lot like like personal spelunking. And I often need a headlamp. (It’s mighty dark in that cave.)

I also appreciate that the payoff for all this physical practice is that it gives me tons of energy to keep my personal projects moving forward in the world.

  And I love the daily discipline of practice. I especially like how when I hit my mat consistently, day after day, with an attitude of curiosity, I start to realize things.

Things like: how large the universe is and how small I am; or how long time is, but how briefly I get to experience it.

Then what happens is that the way I talk, and act, and think, and spend my time, changes. It changes to align with these realizations.

It has to. It has no choice.

The body practice of yoga allows me to test how much and where I can open up more energy streams in my body.

Recently I was talking to someone about my  finances and she advised that if I wanted to become richer, I needed to open up more “income streams.”

It’s the same thing with yoga. The more energy streams I can open up in my body, the more alive I can be. And the more alive I can be, the richer my life is in all its possibilities.

And that, I believe, is my best shot at accessing my full human potential.

The Art of the Conversation

Today I spent a bunch of hours talking to one of the best conversationalists I know, Tim Schlitzer.

I am actually really lucky because I know so many people who have taken the dialogue to an art form. Zee Zahava is a  pure master and a virtuoso, as is Anthony David Adams.

Here is what I think it takes to be a world-class conversationalist:

1. Be engaged with the world. If you are not out in the world, doing things, and having new experiences all the time you will have nothing to talk about. But it is not enough to simply have experiences. You must also…

2. Reflect on your experiences.  You can ponder your experiences of course, but I really think it helps if, from time to time, you write down what you learn and how you are personally affected by the people you meet, the places you visit and the experiences you have.  (Most of my favorite conversationalists are also really good writers.)

3. Master the art of listening.  When you listen to someone else with rapt attention, you not only show respect for that person, but you more quickly locate common ground, where you can then begin to interweave your shared interests and create a beautiful new tapestry of ideas and stories.

4. Be funny. In order to be engaging you must be witty, upbeat and charming. No one wants to hear tales of woe and disaster unless you can spin disaster into a great story. Don Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years should be  a primer for all budding conversationalists.

5.Know what a True Dialogue is. A dialogue is not just a matter of taking turns talking. It’s not just me telling you about my vacation, and then I stop talking so you can tell me about your vacation.

No.

There’s no artistry in that. That’s just blabbing and it’s boring. When a dialogue reaches the stage of an art form I can tell you about my vacation and manage to weave you into it. That takes perspicacity, intimate knowledge of the other person, and the ability to to distill the universal essence  of a human experience so that both speaker and listener feel that they have had the same experience.

Lately I have been reading research about how the over-reliance on texting is destroying the art of the conversation. I don’t know anything about that because I simply refuse to  talk —at least for very long, to people who can’t hold a conversation, or who don’t know how to dialogue.

A good conversation involves timing, listening, weaving, and charming storytelling. If you have ever experienced one, you know that it is breath-taking in its effect. And you can’t wait to do it again.

I am lucky. I know some great conversational masters.  I love it when I get to sit down with them and co-create, as I did today, a beautiful tapestry of connection.

Thanks, Tim.

Becoming Unglued

When people ask me what I do, I don’t always like to say I am a yoga teacher. I never know how “yoga teacher” is going to land for people, or what they picture yoga teachers look like, or what they do.

Sometimes I try to describe what I do without saying the word “yoga.”

The other day I thought of this description of what I do:

I help people become unglued.

Now ordinarily becoming unglued is not a desirable thing. It implies falling apart and being unable to function.

But the way I think of becoming unglued is this.

When we are “glued” we are attached. What are we attached to? Any number of things: our stories, our problems, our jobs, our children, our personalities, our “things to do” lists, —you name it.

We are glued to these things to the point that when we think about making any changes we can’t, because our story, our problems, our jobs, our children, our things-to-do lists eat up all the space in our lives where change could happen.

Change can only happen in space.

Think of it. What if I held you really close to me in a smothering, massive bear hug? I could control you in this position, but the only way you could get out from under my control, is if you could create some space between us. You would have to elbow me away in order to create some change in our relationship.

When people come into my yoga class, I try to distract them from all the things they are “glued to.” I say things like:

Notice how you are breathing in this posture.

or

Notice how when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, you clench your jaw.

or

Allow some space for your breath in your belly.

All this noticing distracts them from their obsessive thoughts about their jobs, lives, children, etc. It unglues them, in effect, thus creating a little more space inside their minds.

Not only that, but all the stretching, the breathing, the weird shapes the body is asked to assume during class, work their magic too, creating a lot more space inside their bodies.

And in this newly created mind space and body space they now feel unglued and free.

In this new “unglued” space they can finally see, maybe for the first time, that they are NOT their stories, their problems, their careers, their to-do lists, etc. And this brings about a feeling of relief and peace.

They float out of class feeling so good. They  want to find a way to sustain this free and unglued state all the time.

They love becoming unglued.

Funny, huh?

(How do you become unglued?)

My Ideal Reader

My ideal reader wants to learn about how other people manage to live meaningful lives in the world, and also find time for introspection and solitude.

My ideal reader can sustain periods of introspection without going bonkers.

My ideal reader needs more time to read and think and be in nature.

My ideal reader wants to read short things that are witty but have some meat to them. (By “meat” I mean a take-away, something useful that he might want to try out as an experiment.)

I want to write to this reader in an entertaining way, but also say, “Hey, this is a light-hearted approach to something I take really seriously. I am smiling in this piece, but I also want you to know that this is an important project I’m working on.

My ideal reader knows this is basically about me, and how I show up in the world. He understands I am trying to figure out how much energy and enthusiasm I can muster for the everyday moments of life: interacting with people, situations, and things.

Everyday I deal with electronic devices and books and blogs and yoga students and writing and dogs and food and working out and money and relationships. That’s what I write about and what concerns me. My ideal writer is concerned about some of these things, too.

My ideal reader and I are also vitally concerned with devising spiritual strategies for staying present and awake. We want to notice overlooked and taken-for-granted things.

I suspect my ideal reader’s most pressing problem is finding meaningful work.

She wonders if she is maximizing her full human potential (and highly suspects that she’s not). I will confess to her that I am not anywhere close to maximizing my full human potential either, but like her, I am aware that this is an important problem that needs to be solved before a whole lot more time passes.

My ideal reader may feel socially isolated, and not currently living with his tribe.

My ideal reader may be in a period of deep transition, waiting for the next thing to present itself.

My ideal reader may be a little timid about going out and trying new things, risking failure, even though my reader knows that that is the only way to make change.

My ideal reader wants me to write to him from a deeply authentic place, soul to soul, and not be pedantic or overbearing.  He doesn’t need to read long tomes about me, but for me to simply open the blinds on my own experience and show him that I am the same as he is, and this is how I deal with it.

I need to be honest with my ideal reader and tell her that I haven’t figured out vast stretches of this terrain, but if I ever do stumble upon something helpful, I will be sure to share.

My ideal reader and I also know that there is someone out there who needs us, and the things we have to offer. He realizes that we are all in a kind of relay race, and up ahead is a runner poised to take our baton and run the next leg.

My ideal reader and I know that it is our singular mission in life not to strand that runner. We have to hand off our baton. No matter what. And soon.

(Definitely before we croak.)

Pathagon

Yesterday I bought a new game for us at the kid toy store. It’s called Pathagon, (which I keep calling “Pathogen.”) It is a strategy game in which you try to build a path from one end of the board to the other as your opponent tries to block you.  It’s not as complicated as chess, but complicated enough, and it kept me interested and engaged. (It is designed for ages 6 and up, so it can be played on a lot of levels.)

Pathagon

G set it up on the coffee table last night, and today, as we ate our lunch we played a “test” game to see how it worked. It was fun, but what was even better is that it brought us back in touch with one another as we played.

As the game progressed, there were quiet moments in which I noticed that I was really there with her. Not just physically, but I was focused on trying to see the board through her eyes. It would give us both an advantage if we could pull that off.

When the game ended, we were still in that intimate “seeing through the other’s eyes” headspace. We started talking about  certain life strategies and problem-solving strategies as they pertained to our individual work. The game had created a bridge for us to do that.

There was also something keenly pleasant about manipulating the game pieces in my hand. In between moves, while studying the board, I would twirl the smoothly sanded pieces of hexagonal wood in my fingers and it helped me think. The pieces fit so beautifully between the pegs.

There is something qualitatively different between between playing a game on a board and playing on the computer.

Between writing on a keyboard and writing with a pen.

Between sending a text and sending a note.

Between sitting on the couch watching a movie together and watching your partner figure out how to make a path to the other side.

Blogging to Failure

G is coming home tonight. They dropped the last 2 games. The night before the games she said on the phone, “We need to split.”

Then they didn’t. They lost both.

(I don’t know what “need” means in this context.)

It doesn’t matter. What I want to tell her is that I am envious of her failure. That’s because failure is opportunity. There are no opportunities when you win. When you win, you just feel good, you pat yourself on the back, but you don’t learn anything.

When you fail you feel bad, but now you have the opportunity to bring your best self to the problem, to figure it out, to manage your emotions, to write down what went wrong and what not to do again. You get to practice being a  failure ninja.

If you are a true ninja you will also be able to see the loss as something to be grateful for, and bow to it.

After that,  you move on.

I don’t give myself opportunities to fail very often, if ever.

I play it safe. I am what they call “risk averse.”

It is not a good thing to be. I need to risk things.  This little book I am trying to put together needs to ship. It needs to be put out there to be seen, to risk rejection. That is the only way I am ever going to grow as a writer, a  person, and a ninja. But I resist. I fear failure.

But I am noticing that by doing this blog every day I am sort of training in risk-taking.  For a long time I let it languish, fearing that I whatever I would write would totally suck. So the fact that I am getting myself down to business every day, and then pushing “publish” is a small, but definite gain.  Still, every time I pull the trigger on one of these posts, I feel nauseous. As the days mount, and the low-hanging fruit gets scarce, I find I really have to  work to not suck.

But this is good training for me. It’s like getting used to bee stings, or doing 20 push-ups just to get to that 21st one you can’t do.

What I am trying to do here is blog to failure. I want to see how how long I can  crank content that isn’t just “what I had for lunch.”  I want to sit down and risk sucking everyday. I want to feel a little less timid about pushing publish.

I wanna be a ninja.