Tuesday, August 28, 2018

For Everything, There is a Season

When Grandpa died, I chose to stop writing as an act of mourning. I wrote an essay with a deadline two weeks after the funeral. I poured myself into that work and when it was done, I was drained. I had no more words. I journaled here and there, but I didn't have anything to say other than, 'I am so sad. I've lost one of my best friends. My heart hurts.' From a blog perspective, I knew there was nothing captivating about writing those words over and over, and so I did not.

I've learned that grief takes time, and I wanted to give myself over to it. I wanted to plan for it. To allow myself the space to do nothing but rest and retreat from one of the things that makes me, me. I knew I needed to honor the pain, and so I did. I feel so grateful for listening to and trusting my gut. I did not resist the idea of putting my words away for awhile, and as my gut knew it was, the word hibernation was exactly what I needed. Nearly nine months later, (hmm...interesting timing) my words are returning—and with a vengeance.

In the past two weeks I have written more than 10,000 words. I finished writing my first short story as an adult writer. That short story became the anchor of the portfolio I created to submit to accompany my application for the 2018 Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. I also wrote days 1-28 of the 31 days of my fourth consecutive series, which debuts on October 1.

The word fast reinforced the significance of observing and honoring the rhythms of life. By stopping my writing for a time, I gave myself and my future work time to rest, to marinate, and to transform. I feel strong again. Ready to write again. I have things to say again.

My short story is about a divorced woman and her beloved grandfather. There is autobiographical elements, but it is fiction. I began writing it while I drove my grandpa around Southeast Kansas last November. I asked myself some 'what if' questions about grandpa and me. I borrowed from a few conversations we'd had in real life, and then I let the answers to the what ifs, guide me to the last line. I am proud of it. The writing of this particular story was a good practice run since there were so many elements that were familiar. It was easier to wade through the emotional parts because it was based on a man I love so much.

I also am feeling another wave of sadness. Having spent time creating this story made Grandpa feel close. Returning from story land reminds me, he's not here. I miss our phone calls, his laughter, and his ability to keep up with us in lives and routines that are so different from the life he lived. But that's what you do when you love someone. You come in close, and you make them and their interests matter to you because they matter to you.

I sense that once this busy autumn is behind me that it will be time to return to my novel, and I feel excitement about that task. I've kept it on the back burner for awhile, again trusting I'll know when the time to return to it is. I feel that time calling me.

It's an exciting time, and I can't help but think of all of this as yet another one of the many gifts Grandpa has showered on me—both in his life and in his death.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reflections on Weekend Three of Yoga Teacher Training

A week before weekend three of yoga teacher training, I had a bit of a fit. My daughter enthusiastically agreed to test me on my recitation. I had been studying by various improved methods since the previous month. We sat on my bed. She gave me the sign that she was ready. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. It was a terrifying moment. Where were all the words?

My daughter encouraged me, gave me a few prompts. I can't remember which happened next. I know that she prayed for me and that I jumped off my bed in a flash of melodrama and started folding laundry.  Startled, she asked, “Mommy, do you regret spending lots of money on this training?”

Honestly, honey, I don't know right now. I'm really frustrated because I have been studying and the words just won't come.”

We all walked into the studio Friday night and there was a palpable stressed-out vibe among us all.

Our amazing teacher read the room with precision and gave us a pep talk. She explained the concept of tapas, a sanskrit word meaning a psycho-physical heat that starts an internal transformation.

She also read to us from a presentation by a Westerner named Svoboda. The words that resonated for me and that I copied down were: "The road will not get tired...choose your pace...align with your own proper gate."

After this talk and a session of round robin student teaching and yoga practice, she gave us a few minutes before our test. In savasana, I felt the tears flow. As my classmates started moving around the room, I remained on my mat. I lowered my forehead to the floor and felt the tears stream down my face. My chest heaved and I let myself sob.

The day after my anxiety tantrum with my daughter, I had asked myself the hardest question: What would it look like if I took teaching yoga off the table and simply completed the training? My answer was: I would feel relief. I would also feel disappointment, sadness, humiliation, and embarrassment, but those four big emotions together didn't match the relief. And so I spent the final days before weekend three letting go of my dream to teach. The anxiety receded and the words I'd memorized returned.

This seemed like a good, though unexpected, answer.

I performed better during this test. I didn't get to everything I wanted to cover, but I recited it with more confidence and speed than the month before.

I returned to my mat on day two and told my teacher, “If I haven't completely turned the corner, I know that I've made a strong pivot in the right direction.”

Even when I was in a fever of stress and anxiety, I knew that this process was a good one for me to go through regardless of the result. Learning the word and meaning of tapas gave me language and a framework from which to view this difficult process. It vented the steam and heat that had built up, and gave me the sense that if I trusted the process, even in the midst of the difficulties, that I could achieve what I want. Yoga presents the same lessons on and off the mat.

What I've figured out is that I actually do not want to teach the particular brand of yoga I am learning, but that I can still get certified to teach yoga. So I don't have to throw in the towel completely. I've also learned that the material I am learning is unique in yoga teacher trainings and that the material will benefit my teaching no matter what kind I teach. 

This decision still feels like the right one at the end of the weekend. More relief.

Here are the other takeaways from this weekend:

Like my writing and my newfound love of gardening, yoga is presenting me with a mirror that reflects back to me things I need to see, assess, and continue to reflect on.

Yoga is showing me in real time precisely how afraid I am to make mistakes. No matter how much I have let go of perfectionist tendencies, I still do not like making mistakes. This inclination causes me to take myself far too seriously and to take fewer risks. Yoga is teaching me to embrace a more playful approach. I can't change what I'm not aware of, so I am deeply grateful that this insight has revisited me.

Our teacher also read the following passage. 

“I suggest that you, individually, seriously consider relaxing and cultivating the skills to meet what arises as it arises without this compulsive need to have everything all planned out...The future is highly unstable, unknown and both mercurial and in fact not here yet, so why try to have it all figured out? Develop skillful means, lightness of movement, creative ways of dealing with unexpected happenstances. You may well need such abilities, such a capacity...So you'll have to dive in and move with Faith and Devotion, and a willingness to adjust to the situation as it presents itself. I know you can do it. The question is will you?”  -Lee Lozowick

Growing more comfortable with the unknown and relaxing in and through it has become a regular practice this past three years.

Over the course of the two two-plus hour yoga practices and the teaching drills that were intense in their own ways, I know that my answer to Lozowick's question is a resounding yes.

Here's to another month of more memorization, writing, gardening... with relaxation, lightness, and creativity.

...blooming where I am planted...

Thursday, August 9, 2018

First Day of Middle School and a Mom Moment

The moment of maternal closeness came this morning as I braided my middle-schooler's hair in boxer french braids. She chose this hairstyle because it showed some effort made without being “too extra.” I'm proving myself a solid braider for this girl's high expectations, and this morning's offering passed the test again.

The braiding took enough time that we had to rush to make our way outside for the annual first-day-of-school photo and to make it to the bus stop with a few minutes to spare.

She was very clear that her expectation was that she would stand alone at the bus stop, but that I could stand on the sidewalk in front of our house while we waited for the bus.

She looked back my way a few times and we volleyed a few sentences back and forth. The final one came right before the bus arrived.

I'm a little scared, Mom.”

The first thing out of my mouth was, “There's nothing to be scared of.”

And then I followed up with this, “Actually, of course you're scared. This is a big moment, but you did it beautifully yesterday, and I know you can do it again today.”

What I'm learning eleven years into this parenting gig is that we do a great disservice to our children when, in an attempt to comfort, we brush off the moment's emotion. Why wouldn't she be scared? She's getting on a bus alone, (with EIGHTH graders!) and going to a new building with unfamiliar adults and students. With unknown expectations and requirements.

Of course the brushing off of these feelings is our attempt at making things better, but the truth is, that's not what my middle-schooler needs. She needs to know that she's capable of walking through whatever middle school sends her way. And one of the first ways her confidence grows, is for me to reaffirm my belief in her ability. Even if I get a catch in my throat as I yell the words from two houses away.

Moments later the bus approached. The doors opened, and my girl walked onto the bus, without looking back. The next few steps away from me and into the life she'll create for herself year-by-year. Exactly as she's designed, and proving that she's prepared, to do.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Oatmeal and Meditation

I've been on an oatmeal-for-breakfast kick for the past month. I load it up with too much brown sugar, coconut, pecans, and a splash of milk. Most mornings, I race against the timer as the oatmeal bubbles to wash dishes, change out the laundry, pack my lunch.

I know and have experienced the benefits of meditation. But most of the time, I find that moving meditation works best for me. You know, like yoga, taking a walk, or walking the labyrinth.

I also like to find the sacred in the most common, mundane moments of my day—brushing my teeth, blow drying my hair. Those moments are always short enough that I can't get rankled if my chattery, monkey mind takes over.

As I've been writing about, my yoga teacher training is testing the limits of my anxiety coping skills. I feel low-grade panic when I'm doing other things besides study, and then the low-grade rachets up to higher intensity when I do study and it's not going smoothly.

One morning this week, when I was feeling particularly frenzied (it wasn't even 8:00 am!), I decided to meditate over my cooking oatmeal. I set the timer for five minutes and watched the water and oatmeal do their thing. As the mixture bubbled I let the thoughts that arose flicker across the front of my mind like headlines at the bottom of a news broadcast. I saw them and then returned to the oatmeal. What am I going to say in this blog post? Let it go. Are you sure about the leopard print dress and turquoise cardigan you're wearing? Yes, now let it go. I really need to wipe down the stove surface. Yep, let it go.

You get the idea.

I stood there watching my breakfast cook. I stirred the pot occasionally as per the directions, and I rocked slowly on my left foot, thigh into oven door, and back to my heel. But otherwise, I did not move. I did not even look at the timer. I gazed at the stove top knowing the five minutes would end—eventually. When the timer dinged, I turned it off, removed the pot from the heat, placed the lid over it, turned off the burner, and reset the timer.

The meditation continued at the kitchen table where I sat down and closed my eyes. When the timer went off three minutes later, my chattery mind was quieter. I didn't feel so frenzied, and I knew I was on to something. Eight minutes, that's all it took for me to re-center, to ground myself for the day ahead.

I have learned that in eight minutes a kitchen can be tidied. But I have also learned that what looks unproductive—moments of quiet stillness—can also be the best way to start a day.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Labyrinth visits: Christmas, May, and July

Sunday morning I sat quietly in church. While the sanctuary was still, my head was active. Banging around inside it were the voices of Panic and Anxiety distracting me about how I am ever going to learn and recite by memory all the yoga poses I need for certification.

I call what's happening low-grade panic. I study, but I also find a million other things to do that help to calm me down from the panicky voices. For instance, since beginning this post, I have watered my flowers, tested myself on the order of poses that make up this month's study, and sorted through the clutter on my desk.

I kept sitting quietly asking myself, and Calliope my gut, what it is I can do to calm myself, study more effectively, and walk into the next test with more confidence. I thought of a few things and landed on visiting the labyrinth.

The labyrinth has been physical space that signals to my brain that I am safe to feel all my feelings and to explore what needs exploring.

This time was no different. Armed with an umbrella, I walked toward the labyrinth. I thought about the past two times I've approached the labyrinth. Once on Christmas day late in the afternoon before attending Christmas dinner with two other single friends. That day was cold and snow blocked much of the path. I persevered as I used my boots to clear the path making it easier to figure out where my next step should land. I made it to the center and was lulled into a peaceful place by the way the snow muffled all the sounds around me. It felt good to feel the cold and to know that I would only feel it for a short time before I was welcomed into the warmth and mirth of a friend's home.

The next time I visited the labyrinth was on World Labyrinth Day in May. My cousins were in town and they were willing to join me on my visit. My cousin started the walk and then decided to take their young boys out into the open field beyond the labyrinth. He gave his wife and I space for a few moments' contemplation and it was lovely. A much different experience than six months before.

Each time I visit the labyrinth, I go with the best kind of expectation. The kind that says, enter with an open heart and be ready to receive something you need to remember or hear, perhaps for the first time.

This latest visit did not disappoint. I wore a pink hoodie to keep me warm from the unseasonably cool and damp early evening. I always carry my phone for photos when I reach the center and held on to the umbrella.

My evening was completely open, so there was no need to rush through the walk to the center. Barefoot, I made each footstep slowly and with intention. I walked gingerly over the few acorns I encountered and made sure I didn't miss a puddle. This is a playful way to help my serious-minded head loosen up. I began praying: I know this yoga thing is supposed to be hard and I don't mind it being hard, but could I please not struggle so much?

I asked for peace, confidence, and the trust in my own ability. I prayed that I wouldn't self-sabotage and that I would be kind about making mistakes knowing that in the mistakes are where the real learning will take place.

When I made it to the middle, I took some photos from different vantage points and then I sat on my umbrella and settled into listening. For awhile nothing came to mind, but I continued sitting. I thought about the prayer I'd voiced moments before and analyzed my words, looking for insight, something profound I could take with me.




Then I heard it: let this time of agitation and struggle be what it is. You don't get to pick and choose when and where you struggle. What you get to do is decide how you're going to react to the struggles that come your way. I smiled knowing this was what I needed to hear. I sat for a few moments longer, and then soul at ease, I began the walk back out.

It's too early to know exactly how this struggle I am having in learning the poses will shape me, my practice, and my future ability to teach. But what I do know is that if I embrace the struggle, and stop resisting, that in December I will have become a stronger, more resilient person. I also know that if I keep breaking down this big, scary goal into smaller pieces, I'll be able to ward off the panic and paralysis with more success.

Here's to letting go.