Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Yogi Wisdom - Tuesday Evening Edition

Tonight was my fourth yoga class in as many days. The class package I bought a few months ago is expiring in a few days and while I will lose a couple classes I'm making the most of the days my calendar allows.

During last night's class, I accomplished something I have never been able to do: I extended my legs straight while holding onto my big toe with my "yogi peace fingers." This is a big deal for me since I have majorly tight hips and hamstrings. Remember, how long it took me last year to touch my toes without bending my knees? I straightened both legs (not at the same time) in spite of the pain I felt. I got there by "playing the edge"- the yoga concept of pushing oneself outside one's comfort zone, but not so far as to cause injury.  

After five years of yoga practice, I've come to expect epiphanies to occur on a somewhat regular basis. Tonight did not disappoint.

I've heard my teachers tell the class to move "toward" a pose on many occasions, but tonight the word lit up like a neon sign in my mind. I was reminded that each time I am on my mat I will have different experiences. Some days I'll be bendier than others. Some days I will have to use a block to reach the floor while other days I'll be able to reach the floor with out assistance. And either way works. The concept of TOWARD grants permission to be between where you are and where you want to be.

So when she told us to work TOWARD a thigh parallel to the floor in a bent knee pose or and arms TOWARD straight with hands clasped, the thought came to me: getting there (wherever there is) is only part of the deal. Doing the work counts, even when the pose is modified. It's not a less-than proposition. You're still doing yoga, still doing the work.

Off the mat, the TOWARD model is a companion to this in-between stage I've been contemplating in the last few weeks. It applies in every facet of my life. Working TOWARD paying down my debt is an important step in becoming debt-free.  It won't happen overnight. And that's okay.

So what that I'm stuck in part two of my novel? It counts that I continue to meet with people who can give me context and insight into the experiences I will eventually write into my characters' lives.  All of this research and contemplation will serve me well when I return to regular writing sessions.

The same goes for the monster jungle I have growing in my backyard. I will get it tamed one day. Hiring a landscape architect to draw up plans that may not be implemented for a few years or at least in very small increments is still moving me TOWARD my goal of outdoor serenity.

The lesson on the mat tonight that so beautifully transfers off the mat is that moving in the direction we want to be headed in is an important element of the entire journey, and should not be overlooked or underestimated. We are not off course (even when it feels like it) when we are moving TOWARD our goals. There is something really satisfying about having to work hard and see the growth, improvement, success in increments.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Glenda's Wisdom with a Recipe

I was hosting lunch for friends after church the next day. As often happens, I wait until the last minute to put things together. So at 9:15 p.m., I started browning ground beef. Spaghetti was on the stove boiling its way to al dente. I bent over the open dishwasher loading dishes, creating order from kitchen chaos when I thought of the recent Wizard of Oz performance I'd attended.

Since I was born and raised in Kansas, I've always felt that I should like the Wizard of Oz story more than I have. Watching it as a child, I remember two things: it was a long movie and the flying monkees were scary. However, something clicked when I watched the production in the outside Muny amphitheatre in Forest Park a few weeks ago. The worries of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion seemed poignant in a way I hadn't noticed before. I could relate to their search for qualities that would strengthen their ability to make their journeys through life. Particularly the Lion's need for courage. I heard the lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow differently than any other time. It speaks of having dreams and aspirations--something I've spent a lot of time thinking about. It also addresses the quality of having not quite attained those things, but also believing that those big dreams are possible. It's a song about liminality--an in-between time and space with which I have grown more familiar and even comfortable. Not something an elementary school ager would have picked up on.

As I moved quietly around my kitchen, it dawned on me that this feeling of peace and joy and wholeness I feel when I prepare food is becoming less novel. I feel those things more often than not. I even find myself drawn to the kitchen when I need to find calm and peace. I have for so many years been convinced that I was a klutz in the kitchen. That I was a failure. That I didn't have anything to contribute. This is simply no longer true. I was in the midst of preparing a meal to feed a table of beloved souls, and I knew I was up for the challenge. I also felt exquisite joy having food, a table, and a home in which to welcome these people.

That's when I remembered what the Good Witch Glenda had said to Dorothy: "You've always had it, my dear." Bent over the dishwasher, I realized Glenda's words were for me too. The problem in the past wasn't my inability to function in the kitchen. It was the inaccurate story I told myself with insignificant anecdotes to back up my claim. Just like Dorothy, I had to find out for myself through trial and error that loving people through creations in the kitchen was, indeed, something I am capable of.

It's still so new I keep writing about it, but I bet I won't be writing about it much longer.

Life imitating art is just the best. So is the sacred in the ordinary.

Spaghetti Bake (as seen on Facebook)

Combine one block of cream cheese, garlic salt, and italian seasoning with cooked spaghetti.

Brown 1lb. ground beef, pour in a jar of spaghetti sauce. Stir mixture.

Pour a portion of the meat and sauce into a greased casserole dish. Pour spaghetti concoction on top of meat and sauce. Pour remaining meat and sauce over pasta. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Sprinkle shredded cheese of choice (or what's on hand) on the dish for the last 5 minutes.

Add to your dinner rotation. It is so easy and de-lish-ous.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Solvitur Ambulando

My writing habit has slowed.

I'm not doing daily yoga.

These two powerful constants in my life haven't been feeding me the way they did last year.

And so I stopped forcing them.

I wasn't comfortable not doing these things, but not doing them felt right.

I leaned into the discomfort.

And then I started walking on the city streets and residential blocks around my office.

These walks broke up what is often a monotonous day in a cold office.

I noticed that I returned to the office with a little bit more energy, more zest for my afternoon's to-do list.

I also noticed that my insomnia was fading. I still woke early without an alarm clock, but I wasn't waking at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning with little hope of falling back to sleep.

For awhile, I didn't have a route. I explored different streets.

Slowly a new pattern formed. I walked to the Ritz Carlton Fountains. Sat on a bench for a few minutes and let the sound of the fountains overtake my hearing like the ocean. Then I'd resume my walk through the county seat and into the lush, well-manicured neighborhoods with plenty of shade trees and inspiration blossoming from every strategically placed plant or flowering bush.

This new pattern has evolved into the newest habit, which feeds something deep inside. I am undeterred by hot temperatures. I have carved out a path that meets my diverse needs--sunshine and shade, sidewalks with people and solitary blocks.

I have long loved this latin phrase: Solvitur Ambulando. It is solved by walking.

My daily walks have created space for me to examine things: my work, my writing, my grief, my desire for companionship, my mothering, my spirituality, my dreams for my house, my debt, everything.

A Robcast podcast accompanies me on these walks. For a long time I have found companionship in this teacher's voice and thoughts. He cracks me up and makes me tear up.

The combination of physical movement and listening to such profound conversation is shaping me and healing me. As I work up a sweat in the summer sun, I feel something else burning off. The anxiety that is always so close to the surface fades. My head is clearer. I smile at everyone I pass.

I am grieving, plain and simple. I did not recognize it for what it was, but in time I have come to understand that the life changes I experienced in the past year are indeed very big. And changes, even positive ones, are a form of death. Old things must die away for new things to be born. I am in what is called a liminal state--the time between one season ending and another beginning. I have struggled for months with the question, "What comes next?" I have felt aimless--not a good feeling for someone who prefers control and having a plan. Oh, this question used to break my heart and bring me to tears. But now, I pause and breathe and remind myself I'm in liminal time. I am meant NOT TO KNOW. Giving it a name has given me peace.

What I DO know is that writing and practicing yoga are life-long pursuits. I will return to them I just don't know when. And that's okay. I will know it when I feel it just like I felt the walking was doing me so much good. Solvitur Ambulando. It is solved by walking.

Slowing down makes it easier to pay attention to the small beauties of life.

My favorite start to every walk. Ritz Carlton Fountains.

I found another fountain enthusiast who circled the fountain again and again.

Commercial landscaping has inspired an idea for my backyard.

Beautiful variety at the local town hall on my route.

The entrance to the shaded neighborhoods.

One day I weeded sidewalks and picked up trash.

Today I walked through the sprinklers and felt like a child again. Glorious.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fan Letter

Dear Rob Lowe,

I have made it a habit for the past seven years to write letters to authors whose work moves me. You are my next recipient.

While I've always known who you are, I only became familiar with your massive talent as I binge-watched Parks and Recreation on Netflix. I am literally late to every pop culture party, but once I arrive, I'm all in!

I am writing a new script for myself: a newly divorced, Midwesterner who shares custody of my nine-year-old daughter. I have more time on my hands than I have had in years. I am adjusting to this change, and the cast of Parks and Recreation has offered me company and laughs that have kept my spirits afloat more often than I can count. Thank you.

I stumbled on your memoir on audiobook at the library. I was not prepared for the beautiful work of art and masterful craft you demonstrated in your autobiography. I loathe my commute to work and home, but during the few weeks I listened to you tell your stories I relished every moment I could be in my car. The stories of JFK Jr. were particularly poignant.

I was fascinated to learn about your writing career and the people who encouraged and inspired you.Writing is my raison d'être. Draft two of my first novel is challenging everything I know about myself as a writer and a woman. The writing process is also an apt metaphor for settling into post-divorce life. In both pursuits, ample doses of faith, perseverance, gentleness, and grit are required.

While our stories are vastly different, I recognized my story in your reflections on people pleasing and boundary setting.Your memoir reminded me that there are many universal truths in our diverse human experience.

While I allow my protagonist's story to continue to percolate and my heart to heal, I am exposing myself to art in all its forms. I am feeding my muse with the artistic expression of many, and your memoir was a feast. 

You talked about how true connection was an important part of changing your life--it is the same for me. I have been sustained during this difficult period by my friends and loved ones.

Thank you for sharing your stories. Your amazing impressions during your reading was a delight.  You have gained a fan.


Julie Steele Mahoney

PS: I've begun watching The West Wing on Netflix and am hooked.
PPS: I really hope you write more stories you only tell your friends.