A Time to Pause and Reflect

I am getting ready to go to the studio and set up for this afternoon’s Yoga Nidra class. Every New Year’s Eve I lead this deep guided meditation called Yoga Nidra, and then offer people the opportunity to stay afterwards and write a letter to themselves.

Here is what happens: Unlike my normal classes where people arrive and chat as they take off their coats and set up their mats, today they will be greeted with signs on the doors that read: Please Keep Noble Silence.

They will enter the warm yoga room, find a mat and settle in. There will be a bowl of stones outside the yoga room door and each person will be invited to take a stone as they enter just as a way of letting other people know how many spots are still left in the room as they arrive. This is a free class, but I only have room for 16 mats.

At each mat will be a piece of paper explaining what is going to happen in the next hour. There will be a half hour of Yoga Nidra which is like a guided savasana. At the end of the Yoga Nidra experience, I will ring the bowl 3 times and people are then free then to leave, still in silence.

I will then increase the light in the room and invite those who wish to stay to take paper, a pen and an envelope, and move to any place in the room, or even into the lounge, for the letter writing part of this experience.

People tend to be in a very introspective and open place in their bodies and their minds after the Yoga Nidra experience, so it is the perfect time for some deep listening.

I invite them to start their letters by writing on the paper: “Dear (their name)” and then write: “I have been waiting for this opportunity to talk to you for a long time. Here is what I want to tell you.”

And from there, to just let their inner voice speak.

When the letter is finished, they fold it, place it in the envelope, seal it, and address it to themselves and leave it with me. I will then mail it to them so that it arrives in their mailbox on the first day of spring.

I have done this for a number of years now, and I think it is both a beautiful and a fitting way to end the year that is passing, and begin the new one that is dawning.

Happy New Year everyone.

Namaste.

 

The Return to Interiority

The Return to Interiority

Even though I get melancholy when the season changes from summer to fall, and even more so when it changes from fall to winter, I have to admit that I really do love the return to interiority.

I just read a piece in Elephant Journal by a woman who went to a retreat at Kripalu and decided that she didn’t want to be alone with her “Self” after all.

That’s not me. Not at all. Me? I need solitude, a strong daily dose of it. When I am too much the “social butterfly” I become lost and scattered and my “self” starts pixelating beyond recognition.

In the Stephen Cope book I am reading now, I underlined this: (he is talking about Robert Frost here.)

“He intuited that he needed a life set close to nature–nature, which had always been his muse. Frost was intuitively aware of an important principle: In the cultivation of dharma, there is nothing more important than understanding what conditions are needed, and relentlessly creating them.” (p.81-2)

This has made me think about what conditions I need, and to try to actively create them. Do you know what conditions make you feel like you are living like your True Self?

As a result of reading this, I have instituted a new morning routine. I now get up a little earlier and make myself a cup of decaf . But instead of sitting down at the computer and checking email and Facebook, which was my usual habit, I now take my cup up to my Space Chair, turn on the little heater, and settle in with my book for an hour.

Winterized Space Chair

I can’t tell you how cozy and delightful this is! It seems like I’ve been whining forever about how I need  more time to read, and here it is. Now, instead of leaving my book to the end of the day, when I am toast, I am reading in the front part of the day, when I am rested, alert and receptive.

After an hour’s read, I go and make myself some amaranth cereal and bring it back up into my cozy lair and start alternately scribbling in my journal and shoveling cereal into my mouth.

When another hour has passed, I am good to go: ready to be physically active and socially engaged.

These may not be all my “conditions” but they are certainly key: solitude, reading, and writing.

Do you know what yours are? Care to share?

Homecoming

I put the velvet comforter on the bed the other day and and I’ve been craving gingerbread, and ginger snaps, pumpkin spice lattes, and pot roast.

This weekend we had a fire in the fireplace for the first time. The cat, who has not slept on my bed since I put the cotton comforter on it back in June, has now made my bed hers again.

Lulu loves comfort

In the weeks and months I have not been writing here I have:

  • Done a 2 month cleanse
  • Attended a 5 day program with Yoganand at Kripalu
  • Started doing The Ultimate Yogi cds

Then, the other day, in response to my last post, one of my yoga students gave me a fountain pen. I uncapped it right then and there at my desk in the lounge and scribbled a few “test” words on a Post-It just to try it out, and I fell madly, deeply, hopelessly in love with it. I swear, I could hardly teach my class that night so anxious was I to get my hands on that pen!

It’s a Varsity disposable fountain pen made by Pilot (my fave pen company to begin with) and it writes like a dream. I feel like I have come home again.

I really want to love writing on the keyboard, I do.  I really want to love Scrivener and all the linking and research filing it lets me do, but I can’t seem to get my ideas out of the box there the way I can with fountain pen and paper.

It’s so weird because I am such a geek for electronics and I love all my gizmos. I am lusting for an Iphone 5 (even thought I hate phones and do not need one.) I love my Kindle. I adore my Ipad. My MacBook Pro is showing some signs of age (which makes me a little crazy because it’s not that old) but when it comes to writing, I’m completely old-fashioned: just a fountain pen, and a plain, unlined Moleskine notebook (the 5 x 81/4 size) turned landscape, and a quiet morning in my space chair.

Last week I was so excited because I thought I could have the best of both worlds: Evernote came out with a Moleskine specially designed to be able to store and search your scribblings!

Here’s how it works: You open the Evernote app and click on the camera within the app (it works with Ipad, Iphone, and Itouch w/camera) and take a picture of whatever you’ve written (or sketched) in the special Evernote Moleskine and then it saves your scribbles in the cloud where you can even tag them and search them.

But oh god, it is so clumsy. I found I did not like it at all for what I do and the way I write, but I think it might work for little things, like my daily log, but not for my long morning write.

I am thinking about doing NaNoWriMo again this year. (Do you remember I made a go of that last year? Got it all set up in Scrivener and everything, but then got hopelessly behind in my daily word count and abandoned it at the 10K mark?)

Okay, so this year I am going to take another stab at it and try for 50K words in a month doing it longhand, with fountain pen, in my (regular) Moleskine. I’m nuts, I know, but I am going to attempt a memoir. A spiritual memoir. I know…I know…such a cliched meme of the times, but I am curious about what I might learn about the trajectory of my life by writing down all the “dots” and then attempting to connect them.

This weekend is Homecoming and we are going to have a houseful of softball players doing their ritual, “Telling of the Stories of the Good Ole Days.” They are so sweet, so ridiculous, and they have such a good time, I can’t help but love them, but I will spend most of the weekend hiding from them up here in my room, finishing Stephen Cope’s latest, The Great Work of Your Life.

Today is a beautiful, blue October day. I plan to spend most of the afternoon cleaning up the yard, throwing out frost-bitten plants. Then I think I will make a big batch of my famous macaroni and cheese and eat it in front of the fire tonight.  In honor of homecoming.

 

 

 

 

The Pen Is Mightier. The Computer Has No Pulse.

This morning I made a cup of de-caf, took out a pen, found a lightly used Moleskin and started writing. With a pen. On paper.

I wrote a letter to my muse, asking her to come back to me. I told her that I saw her as a kite that had gotten so high in the sky that she was only visible as a little dot in the sky. Even the kite string that attached her to me, disappeared after a while so I wasn’t even sure we we tethered any longer.

 

I told her that she was like a big fish that I had hooked, but couldn’t seem to reel in. She was strongly in control of our destiny, pulling the little boat of me way out into the pathless sea.

 

I’ve been trying for well over a year, to get my muse to go digital. “C’mon Muse,” I write, (actually, I call her Stella). “C’mon Stella,” I scribble, “You know my handwriting is atrocious, and if you say something wonderful, I will only have to transcribe this into Scrivener anyway, so why can’t we learn to relate to each other on the keyboard?”

 

“No,” she says, “I hate the keyboard. The electricity mucks up our vibe. I need your pulse. It activates the ink. Actually, I wish you would go back to your old fountain pen. I really liked that fountain pen. Gel ink? It’s so processed.”

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in cursive script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going to draw the line at the fountain pen, I don’t even think I have one anymore, but I am going back to the ink pen and the paper because I need her. I can’t do this alone. When I do have a pen in my hand, and an open notebook, I can feel her getting closer. My brain starts to fire in a different way, my thoughts have a different voice. It’s as if she is in my head,  whispering: “Loosen your grip, Kath, let your eyes go out of focus, let ME write.”

 

I know she’ll come back to me eventually, but only if she sees me holding a pen. It’s killing me that we have to do it like this because typing is so much more efficient: cleaner, faster, and infinitely more edit-able.

 

But I need her.

 

 

 

Why Write

Take me, for example.  Not the best writer in the world.  A reluctant writer.  A shy writer, but I cannot seem to stop doing it. I have tons of journals in the basement; I am writing a book or trying to. I tried high school teaching once but couldn’t stomach it.  I Teach yoga instead, and love it.

Still writing though.  Weird.  So what’s the point?  Why continue with this?  The answer is: I can’t stop.  I am addicted in a weird way.  I can stop for a while, but not for long. I wish I could stop, but I can’t. It’s what I do.  It’s who I am. Or at least it’s a part of who I am.  Not everything, but big.  Huge, maybe.

I can’t stop doing it.  I like it and I hate it at the same time. It’s both a blessing and a curse.  Why can’t I stop?  This is what happens when I do stop, even for a little while.

At first it feels fine.  I am doing and acting in the world, and everything is fine.  Then there starts to be  discomfort.  Not in the body, but someplace inside.  There is a grouchiness that develops, a persistent feeling of being out-of-sorts.  I can’t put my finger on it but it feels wrong.  I never think it’s because I haven’t been writing, though.  I blame it on my diet, or lack of exercise, or lack of discipline in my life.  I start to worry about death, and wake up in the night and think about how old I am and how I haven’t done a damn thing with my life and it’s almost over.  I think that I am not even close to getting the “Life Well-Lived” badge.  But I am very close to getting the “Too Little Too Late” badge. Or the “Good Intentions” badge.  And that scares me.

So the next day I take out the journal and start scribbling because I need someone to talk to about all this stuff that’s worrying me.  I need to talk to my inner wisdom guide, which I have named “Stella,” only I don’t ever consciously think that that’s what I need to do.  I think I just need to sort things out in my brain.  I think I need to put it all out there and look at it rather than having all the boogie-boogies in my brain (which is a very dark and spooky place to begin with) scaring me with their creepy noises and voices.

When I finish writing there is clear and bright at the end.  Not always “happy.”  No.  But the writing shines a flashlight under the bed and I can see the boogie-boogies for what they really are, which are thoughts, and not real.

I sit down and write these words: Only actions are real.  And although this does not console me, because I am not a person of action for the most part, at least I am not worried about stuff that isn’t real anymore.

Then I realize after I’ve written for a few hours that the reason I was getting all crazy in my head was that I had not written in a while. I was disconnected from my self, my Stella, my star, my soul, whatever I want to call it.  And that’s why I needed to write.  Not because I am a good writer. Not because I need to make up elaborate other worlds like fiction writers do.  No. I write in order to connect with myself.

I write because it’s the only way I know that I can stay happy and sane.  If I don’t, I become grouchy and crazy.

It’s as simple as that.

20 Minutes A Day

All of my little rituals each take 20 minutes.

For example:

It takes me about 20 minutes to write 750 words.

I set my Insight Timer for 20 minutes when I meditate.

It takes me 20 minutes to do my little circuit on the MU Stadium steps.

Funny, how in a mere 20 minutes I can totally reset myself: change my mood, raise my energy, get my brain cooking– just by making myself slightly uncomfortable for a little while each day: grinding out words, sitting with boredom, sweating.

Discipline is such a weird thing, because while you are practicing it, it feels “grindstoney” and  straight-jackety–the antithesis of hair-blowing-in-the-wind, Julie Andrews twirling in the field, freedom. Yet, it is the only way to achieve true freedom.

I’ve been re-reading parts of The Untethered Soul lately and the other day I came across Singer’s wonderful story about the dog and electric fence.

A dog wants to run free, is meant to run free, but its owner installs an electric fence, which is a buried electrified cable.

The dog is then outfitted with a special collar that will zap him whenever he get too close to that buried cable. In this way, the dog learns to stay inside the  fence.

The inside of the fence is pain-free, but it is certainly not running-full-out–jowls-a-slather, free (which is what every dog wants and dreams of, presumably.)

But a brave, hell-bent on freedom dog, will creep up to the edge of the fence each day and let the collar buzz him a little. If he does this enough, he will begin to realize that the “zap” just hurts a bit, that it won’t kill him. If he gets used to the buzz and can learn to withstand the zap, he will be able to plow right through that invisible force field and be truly free.  But he must be willing to take the zap.

It’s the same thing with me and my disciplines. I can live quite comfortably without them. The “yard” of my non-disciplined life is small, but it’s comfortable, predictable, though somewhat boring.

The larger world, the world of freedom and infinite possibility on the other side of the invisible force field, can only be earned if I am willing to take the zap, to open myself to the discomfort of the page, the cushion, the stadium steps.

So that’s why when people say, “Why do you do that to yourself? Why do feel the need to put on that straightjacket?  Why press your pretty little nose to that grindstone?  Life hard enough. Relax already!

I know that if I can just learn to withstand the pain of the electric fence which is imprisoning me in this little yard, and do it in 20 minute increments every day, soon I’ll build up the courage to take the zap head first.

Then I’ll be free.