Monday, March 26, 2012

On meeting yourself where you are

In the fall of 2010, my school had an ice-skating event.

I'm from Southern California. In other words, I don't ice skate. I've been skating maybe half a dozen times in my life, unlike these Pennsylvania natives who have skated on actual frozen lakes.

Skaters, Central Park, N.Y, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views

My student, Justin, zipped back and forth, cutting across the ice, unafraid of the vast open center of the rink. My coworkers skated around, talking, turning, stopping with ease. I like to try things, I thought. And work is paying for it. I'll get a pair of skates. I'm sure I can do this.

Justin, a hockey player, laughed at me as I nervously gripped the edge and inched my way around the rink. Another teacher, Brandon - who is not a small man - was new at skating too. He valiantly attempted to skate - with the aid of a walker-type contraption, the likes of which I'd never seen. Of course it was sized for children, so he was bent over it uncomfortably. He was a sight! But he trudged on, uncaring how he looked and enjoying himself immensely.

On my fourth tortured creep around the rink, as I ventured away from the wall a little more, I fell and twisted my ankle. When I finally conceded to go to a doctor, I learned it was a sprain.

I don't yet know how to ice skate. I know that now. It's not that it's wrong to poke at your limits - in fact, it's the only way we ever learn anything new. But by accepting our limitations, and accepting the help that is available to us, we stay safe from injury. We may be too proud to use a wall to steady our balance in Vrkasana (Tree Pose), or insist that our hands can reach the floor without a block in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). We don't admit that we need to look up that word we don't know, or insist that we can carry all the bags to the front door in one trip. We fail to accept the help that is available out of pride, or the fear of seeming weak.

But the figure of Brandon scooting around behind that undersized "ice skating training aid" reminds me that there is strength in seeing the help that is available and in not being afraid to use it. To say "this is where I am today, and I'm okay with that."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The power of letting go

Four summers ago at outdoor yoga, I was first introduced to the idea of headstand. 

At the time, headstand was this thing. This goal. This unattainable, top-of-Mount-Everest goal that I thought I would never achieve. Oh, sure, I tried the little egg preparation. I decided that was as far as I could go, as far as I needed to go. It gave me the feeling of being upside down without the vulnerability.

I didn't practice headstand for three years. I practiced with my hands in a tripod with my head and rested my knees on my elbows, and that was my headstand. And it's a fine pose and gives all the benefits and keeps you safe.

And then things started to change. I changed. I discovered social dancing, I opened my mouth about things I didn't like at work, I lost my job. I went into a deep depression. I wanted to feel strong again, so I started doing the Five Tibetans, which are these great exercises that align the chakras and strengthen the core and made me feel so strong and confident. I horsed around, showing kids at the daycare how to start a headstand with that little egg. And before I knew it, my feet were floating up.

I was shocked and scared. My knees came right down to my elbows again and I couldn't get them to lift. This went on for a while.

And then another day, I was putting a sequence together for a friend, and thought, well, some kind of inversion on the end would make sense.

So there I went, into my little egg, and my feet floated all the way up.

I was, of course, so shocked that I fell over.

But there it was - headstand. Something I'd let go of so thoroughly that I didn't even want it. It suddenly appeared.

When I was a child, my grandparents had a framed poster on their wall with a picture of a monarch butterfly. The quotation at the bottom was 

Monarch Butterfly Red Zinnia 2050px

Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Which may actually be from Nathaniel Hawthorne, according to the wisdom of the internet.
I had a challenge this past week - owing to a situation that made me uncomfortable, in a place where I was previously comfortable, I had to go someplace new. 
Last week I could have gone, but I couldn't quite see it. I went out in the yard and took my meditation there, among the new crocuses and burgeoning weeds.

Within five minutes of closing my eyes I knew that it didn't matter. That whatever decision I made would be okay, that I was deciding between going dancing and going to yoga that night, and either decision would be a thing I wanted to do and either thing would end up being the right thing to do and the thing I most needed to do. I knew that I would try the new dance studio when I was ready, and that I needed to let myself need it, and then I would be ready.
This week I wanted to dance so badly, I knew it was time to be ready. I was nervous. My stomach started feeling uneasy around noon. I checked the information over and over again, wondering if the week I picked to go would be the week it was cancelled for mysterious reasons. I was shaking when I walked through the door, even though I knew there would be at least a couple familiar faces there.
There were more than a few - it was nearly the same crowd. I was recognized, welcomed, even used for a demo as the other instructor fiddled with the music. It's different there, a smaller crowd, a different floor, a different vibe. But it's all right. It keeps me dancing. I let go of pushing myself, and I floated to where I needed to be, just as my feet floated up to point at the ceiling.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I have this new coworker. He's a misery.

He doesn't know he's a misery, though. He's one of those very old-school types who thinks that mild insults are a way of showing affection - and that showing this kind of affection is appropriate in an office setting. He reminds me of a newspaperman from the 30s in shirtsleeves, with a cigar burning on the desk and a glass of whisky within reach.

He swears far more than is necessary, talks angrily to his computer, sings, whistles, coughs, comments on everything even if it is just to repeat what someone else said, and just generally seems to need a great deal of attention.

Mirounga leonina

It's very hard to not be annoyed by this guy, and certainly even harder to try to muster up some compassion for him.

At first I thought, perhaps it's just me; I didn't like my other coworker very much when he started and I've come to be able to see that he means well, even though he tries too hard. When this coworker started talking about the new coworker to me, though, I was able to let go of thinking it was just me, and that I had to resist this overly negative person, and try to gain some perspective and some compassion for this person who I find myself offended by daily.

My affable coworker referred to the other guy's mannerisms as armor that he carries around with him. And it is; it's armor that keeps people from liking him, armor that keeps people at a distance. Armor that he probably doesn't even know he's carrying.

Cyndi Lee reminds us that the warrior's weapons are "precision, gentleness, opening, and natural intelligence." One look at any of the warrior poses (Virabhadrasana) shows this to be true.


There's nothing in that stance about fighting, closing off, sending others away. The warrior is open to the challenges. She welcomes others in, "seeing with precision what is happening here and now in any given situation, and then having the courage to open [her] beating heart to that" (Yoga Body, Buddha Mind; 89).

Anytime someone comes into our life they are either a blessing or a lesson. Encountering this person, trying to find some compassion and a way to keep his habits from negatively affecting me, is certainly a lesson. It's reminder to think about my own armor, the ways that I keep people from getting to know me, from knowing when they've made it into my heart.  A reminder to look at myself and ask, what is it I do that keeps people away? Which habits should I shed, to make being around me a more pleasant and beneficial experience for others?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

From winter to spring

I am anxiously awaiting the crocuses.

By all accounts, they should be up by now. However, I've never had much luck with bulbs, despite the incredibly easy instructions on the package and the relatively little care they appear to need. Place deep in the ground, allow to freeze, wait, be amazed. Isn't that the way they're supposed to work?

Source: via Katherine on Pinterest
These are not my actual crocuses. Because I'm still waiting for them.

I've seen some bulbs attempting to push their way through the industrial soil by the train tracks as I walk to work, and making their way out of the neighbors' mulch, but mine are reluctant. I wonder if they became food to the bunnies and squirrels that tease my cats during the fall.

Fall displays of bulbs get me every time, despite my lack of success in the past. As the weather grows colder and the days get shorter, I need the hope that they give me - the hope that spring will come again, that things will get better, that the sun will return.

Last year's hyacinths took me by surprise.

It's the same hope that I need to keep going when the things we call "negative emotions" start rearing their heads. Last night I was assaulted by a wave of jealousy, loss, and regret.

My throat is tight, my shoulders are up around my ears. With every breath I have to tell myself to relax.

My reactions are mine, and all I can do is stand back, look at my reactions, and determine the best course to follow. Which is why I put quotation marks around negative emotions - because all emotions exist, and we all have them. It's what we do with them that's important. I felt myself composing statements that I would regret uttering, so I left the situation.

We have talked a bit in Yoga Teacher Training about suffering as a choice - that pain will come and go, but we can choose whether we suffer from it. This struck me as a powerful idea - that I can choose not to suffer. But when pain comes, making that choice becomes difficult. How do I detach my emotions from the events, remove my need to interpret, react, make sense, and instead simply observe what I feel and let it pass?

I'm not there yet, and so I need my crocuses to come up. To remind me that there is hope. There is spring, and that new things come to take the place of old things.

These would be the peonies of last year.

In another month the peonies will begin to poke their strange voodoo heads through the ground, and spring will begin in earnest.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Compress and release

This weekend I had no commitments to anyone but myself. I found myself exploring dance convention websites, in honor of the one I'm not at this weekend. I saw my teachers in the highlights videos. Then I discovered MADjamTV - the webcast from the convention. I just happened to check it out during West Coast Swing semi-finals, and I absolutely saw names of people I know and names of people I might know, if I were sure of their last names. I'm not kicking myself too much for not going, because there will always be more conventions. Now that I realize it's something I want to do, I know I have a community to help me with the details.

A year ago I'd never heard of such a thing, and the idea of actually going to a social dance was one of those things I wanted to do but would never do because of social anxiety and strangers and being afraid that no one would talk to me or dance with me. The fear of being isolated was too strong. Up until recently I never thought I'd want to go to a convention (again, the fear of being seen to be alone amid a group of strangers) and certainly never thought I'd want to compete.

Dancing has always been part of my life, except during the times that I thought it wasn't available to me - thought there were no classes I would like or the studios were too far away or that I would never be able to go to a social dance unless someone I knew brought me. In the end that was precisely what I needed - someone to hold my hand for just a little while, provide that safety net, look out for me - and then gradually let me go.

I've found that there's a community that doesn't need to know what goes on in my life or my head, or even my last name, just needs to know that I love to dance and will show up most weeks and share the experience. It's a strange kind of attachment in that we touch, laugh, even sweat on each other, and yet know so little about each other. Someone may be a stranger, but given the right song you find yourself held close, breathing their breath, swaying as you find each other in the music, communicating without words, trying on a persona, becoming free.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

New beginnings

What "detached" is changes, depending on the day and the things I'm working on. For several months now, I've been detached from the blog itself as I sorted out issues involving employment, career path, and state of mind.

Or perhaps I shouldn't use the past tense there, since none of these things are "sorted out" in any permanent sense. Sometimes not even in a temporary sense.

One thing I've come to accept is that all things are temporary and provisional. The trouble with that is the tendency to get caught up in the future - what happens when this ends? What will I do then? I think that's what I was talking about when I talked about redoing the kitchen - that even while I had the job, I was afraid to spend money for fear of what might happen in a few months. Perhaps this was a wise decision financially, but perhaps it was unnecessary. Eight months have passed since I lost my job, and I haven't dipped into my savings at all. I've been earning and turning down unemployment. I haven't always loved what I was doing, but from mid-August on I was earning enough or nearly enough.

In the meantime, I've delayed some joy.

Not all of it. There have been many, many moments of joy, particularly since the new year arrived. A new, though temporary, job has helped me to be kinder to myself and to move away from those days of fear and doubt. We've had an exceptionally mild winter. I've changed in so many ways.

So I've decided to retry the blog, explore the things I hold onto and the things I have let fall away.
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