Balance, space and compost

I’m a great fan of Danielle LaPorte‘s writing, and the moment when I fell in love with her work was when she said this about balance, arguing instead for passion:

Life balance. Low fat cheese. Walking shoes. Small talk.
Life balance. The term makes me feel bloated and late for my own party.
Life balance. Stressful.

Simple laboratory scales for balancing tubes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And this is, of course, what I think about when I teach “balance poses” in yoga. What’s the difference between “life balance” and “balancing”? Do I want to balance? How do I balance? and Why?

I think we persist in thinking and talking about balance as if it were a thing, but we want the ability to practice balancing, and this demands its own intense (yes, even passionate) focus. When we practice balancing in yoga poses, part of what it provides us is an intense, in the moment experience of riding a wave, uniting opposing forces and standing on a razor’s delicious edge. And it demands we have space around us, because if we’re truly engaged in a practice of balancing, we will fall.

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s the mistake we make in seeking “balance” in life. We are looking for a way not to fall. Not to get caught up, caught in or dragged under. We want association without engagement. In balancing, such as Tree pose, your entire body mind is dynamically adjusting, micromovements, microexpansions and contractions, different in every body, every moment, completely engaging and releasing your mind.

I recently realized that I had slipped into seeking “balance” because one of my projects has outlived my passion. I’ve never been one to have harsh demarcations between “work” and “personal” life. I write on vacations, I adore people with whom I work. My work  – from Philosophy graduate student to Paramedic to maid to consultant at various times – has always been the rocks in the tumbler of my soul. Work + meditation = growth. At least in my life.

When I started marking out times and places and feeling incredibly defensive about this project staying in those bounds I realized something was amiss. Was I hiding from total engagement? Or did this project simply not fit anymore?

I’m finding that as I deny this project (and the chorus of voices and fears and hopes and shenpa around it) claim on my attention, I’m realizing that I feel restricted by it because I was investing in it for a myriad of sad girl reasons (substitute family, need for recognition, approval, a broken notion of “service” and hopes that things weren’t they way they are).

The project itself is exciting and the work honorable, good work. But I’ve known for months I’m not the one who should be doing it – for my own good. My aims seem counter to the culture of the place. I actually accepted this project as a way of “changing the culture.” Why? How? The reason I stepped out of the culture to begin with was that it rings my bells in an old, broken tune and I want none of it. As a very wise woman, Kris Roush, recently said to me, (and I paraphrase) Isn’t it a kind of madness to wonder why you don’t smell like roses when you’re swimming in shit? You can put on all the rose water you want before you dive in, you still have dung up your nose when you surface.

When I find myself trying to balance gripping tightness with equal parts hot baths and yoga, just so I can return to the gripping, I know I’m seeking balance as  a thing in my life and not actively balancing all the opposing forces of rosewater and compost, meetings and solitude, building and tearing apart. I know that what I need, instead, is the space to fall and the surface to land on without wounding. I need to move toward and with passion, and away from sacrifice and misguided, ancient, stultifying notions of loyalty.

One of the phrases that came to me over the holiday while canvassing the year we’d had and dreaming the year we want to invest in was “You don’t need to save anyone. Not even yourself.” Balance is trying to save others while you drown. Space is loving and seeing that it’s all a play between drowning and swimming. Bullshit is what you make it. It can either be a nuisance and a pestilence  or the nutritive bed for plunging roots that suck up everything they need to produce wild beauty. The difference is time, darkness and ability to stand the heat.

Detoxing from detox-mind

One of the most tired words used in “the yoga community” is “detox.” One of the

detoxification

detoxification (Photo credit: sillydog)

most tiring emotions and states of mind is fear, and paradoxically, talk of detoxification plays on, rather than reducing, fear. Detoxification regimes are, by nature, temporary and focused on ridding ourselves of negativity.

While reduction of bad things seems like a no-brainer winner, there are two fatal flaws in this plan. There is no end of “bad things” from which to rid our body-minds, and so the pursuit is really never ending, while the regimes are of necessity temporary.  The entire mindset and methodology are actually anti-yogic. While the Sutras talk about purification, the suggestions we are given there on purification have to do with care, love and adding more of what supports us, not forgoing specific substances or actions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no such things as toxins, or that they can’t cause disease (as one of the articles below asserts). Free radicals (ions) damage the body and can be lessened by yogic practices. Chemicals in our food irritate bowels and derange hormones. Mindfulness in how we source and prepare our food can lessen our exposure to these things. However, we will never be rid of free radicals or additives to the growing process or preparation of our foods. Our bodies are not dirty and do not need radical cleanses simply from being in the world. And the cult of negation doesn’t offer a wholesome way of living, only a wholesale way of marketing.

The Sutras offer suggestions on how to lessen suffering, frustration, restlessness and disturbance. Not so much instructions as strategies:

“I,32 In order to prevent [obstacles to self-knowledge]…habituate yourself to meditation on a single principle.

I,33 By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened.

I,34 OR the obstacles can be lessened by forcibly exhaling, then retaining the prana during the pause following the exhalation.

I,35 OR another way to steady the mind is by binding to higher, subtler sense perceptions.

I,36 OR the mind can also find peace by contemplating the luminous light, arising from the heart which is the source of true serenity.

I,37 OR….

The suggestions go on. Not one instructs us to avoid, wring out or rid ourselves of a single thing. While they are instructing us on how to lessen “the obstacles” (= things that hurt us like disease, dullness, doubt, delusion), they suggest positive actions. Focus on this. Keep that. Increase this.

What if instead of denying ourselves anything (ok, the short list of exceptions includes crack, meth and murder, but you get the idea… and if not having this level of distracting substance is “denying” yourself, then you do, indeed, require a medical detox program before you return to simple instructions for everyday life. Not judging, just sayin.) So, how about instead of denying, we add more goodness to our lives. Instead of resolution we expand. Instead of fearing we love. Instead of subtracting we add so much of what feeds and sustains us there’s little time or space left for what we would subtract?

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poach...

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poached lemons, whipped cream and candied lemon dipped in chocolate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And when we have those “toxins” (sugar, wine, <gasp!>

Layer Cake (film)

Yes, that’s Daniel Craig. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cigarettes, <insert your choice of perceived vice>) how about we bring as much presence and enjoyment to our double chocolate layer cake slathered in mousse and drenched in brandy lit on fire with a cigar as we do to prayer? How about noticing the desires this satisfies as well as those it creates, the memories, ideas and feelings it soothes, evokes and inflames.  Bringing the same presence to the underbelly of our lives (I’ll let your imagination supply the less seemly examples) as we do the mat and the cushion is all we are required to do.

III,14 Our nature has a common source – the substratum out of which all latent, manifest, and unmanifested properties of consciousness arise.

Move in the direction of what you desire, everything you desire. The chocolate alongside your yoga and lots of fruit and veg (10 servings a day anyone?) and water and green tea and goji berries… whatever your good things are. The brilliant thing is that there are so very many. Good things. And the more we ingest (literally, figuratively, mindfully) the better we feel, the less room we have for “toxins” or what would produce them, and the less time we have to worry about how toxic we are or might be. We are too busy enjoying all the awesome. When’s the last time you had to turn down something fantastic because there were just too many other, more fantastic things in your life?

Eat enough spinach and a little whip cream doesn’t matter. Enjoy enough yoga and a late night of catching up on Downton Abbey doesn’t matter (ok, maybe a little. But not for long.) While the output may be the same – fewer “bad” things – the result is quite different. The result is part and parcel of the path, of choosing love over fear, abundance over denial, desire over rejection. Move in the direction of your dreams. Not out of the messy, sticky, ambiguous, ambitious, delicious stream of life. Yoga is about extreme engagement, not about running away.

 

Yoga of hidden goals, redux + applied

There’s a beautiful book launch today over at Curvy Yoga, where the name of the game is “body positive yoga,” which you might hope would be a redundant phrase.

For that reason, I was fascinated with the interview Roseanne highlighted in her blog post over at It’s All Yoga: a quick (11 minute) chat about photo-shoots, body image and loving life with Kathryn Budig of ToeSox ad fame.

NiNJA a'SCAREDY CAT

(Photo credit: aJ GAZMEN ツ GucciBeaR)

Budig sounds like so many of us reflecting on our vulnerability and body image (deeply intertwined) and a million yogis who depend on their practice to sculpt their image of a yoga body. The interview (11 minutes) didn’t allow for deep exploration of the junction where external and internal judgment meet, much less our collective concept of “goddess body” (can anyone say Venus of Willendorf?)

Deutsch: Venus von Willendorf

Deutsch: Venus von Willendorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I guess that what this short conversation reveals is that there are many possibilities rattling in our collective consciousness.

What the juxtaposition of this book launch and this interview say to me is that there are plenty of hidden goals rolling around in many of our assumptions about yoga, bodies, health and beauty.

Brava for Guest-Jelley (most especially today) and for Budig for putting it out there, for Roseanne over at It’s All Yoga for asking the question.

The yoga of hidden goals that rearrange your life

Rearrange

Rearrange (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Svadyaya, self-study, is one of the guiding practices or values of yoga, one of the niyamas, and is often taken to mean the study of texts or of the breath.

Studying habits and patterns, though, can make tectonic shifts how you live your life. This kind of study, though, has to be courted; it can’t be undertaken on a schedule. You have to be ready when the text opens itself and clear enough to see what it’s telling you.

Yoga, you’ve heard over and over, means “yoking.” Yoga is the union of seeming opposites – sun & moon, light & dark, active & inactive, inbreath & outbreath, effort and surrender. Yoga also happens when we’re able to see how opposites intersect in our own bodies, lives and psyches and not take sides. Like that moment when you realize that you really can be happy for someone else and sad for yourself (or visa versa) at the same time, and they’re not like matter and anti-matter, canceling one another or causing your very substance to blink out of existence from the seeming contradiction.

“Yoga” refers to the internal logic of life. When you begin to listen to your life and view it from a place of expansive consciousness, it gets a little Joseph Campbell on you. The deeper reality that allows the seeming contradictions to co-exist begins to surface like artifacts in the desert after a rain and the thing that’s always bugged you about how you live your life, react to stress or talk to yourself in between the words you say out loud becomes utterly clear, obvious and undeniable, like a skeleton bleached under the sun on a vast landscape of air and sky.

Only when you make space for these seeming revelations (the truth has been there all along) can you begin to see how your own internal logic has been using all your well-planned, deeply cherished goals to weave its own fabric from your life.

This is the reason I come to the mat. Not because this will happen on any given day, or because I can make it happen or force understanding where, right now, there is only longing. But because without this time alone, quiet, in movement and stillness, the internal logic of my life – the thing that’s trying to work itself out, the call that I can almost hear in everything I do, the voice that might be calling out for help and for care, or might be driving me forward – won’t surface through the sands of time, won’t be heard, made scrutable and understood. Without taking this time, the voice in the desert continues calling, unheeded, unheard, mistaking itself for alone.

 

Miracle in stone: Eagle on the mesa

Eagle

“There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate

On the way to Wijiji, Easternmost Great House of the Chacoan Center. 

Changing practice

Combat boots are very popular for women to wea...

Mine zip up the sides so I can keep ’em tied. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this, I’m sitting on my balance ball in my yoga room/office next to my hula hoop in BDUs, combat boots and a yoga top. There’s a pair of trauma shears in my pocket and a carpuject device, all just in case I’m called in, and a blue tooth in my ear to take that call if it comes. Right now, I’m writing. If I’m called in, I’ll be medic-ing. I’ve come to think of all my identities as verbs so they don’t feel so heavy.

I’ve also begun the process of negotiating those identities. Being a Paramedic was once a dream so intense it burned the grad student right out of me. No longer a dream, Paramedic-ing is one of my awesome realities, all of which inspire in me gape-mouthed breathless devotion at my good fortune and the amazing opportunities put in my path. And the larger reality is this: for the first time in my life I have more awesome than I can do justice to.

I used to work hard to quit stuff because it sucked – cigarettes, coffee (I’ve stopped stopping that), snarkiness (always a struggle, cause it’s just so fun), late nights, drinking too much, that kind of stuff. And in the process I learned that working hard against things usually keeps them in my life (does it work that way for you, too?) That it was a matter of choosing away from them, not against them that helped them fade into the fuzziness and golden light of good stories. The difference is to choose something awesomer than you think the old thing will feel if you do it right now, just one more time, because it looks so shiny and sexy and real.

Now I find that I have so many amazing choices for how to spend my days that I constantly feel like “not enough.”  I’d tell you I don’t understand people who complain of boredom, but really that’s just another way of bragging about busy-ness <yawn> and I’m choosing away from busy-ness. I am too busy, but I’m not going to tell you about it when I call to ask you to do something for me – because I know you probably are, too. Or remember having been, and know it’s a choice. Anddo understand boredom. It’s the feeling I get when I don’t want to do what’s in front of me (Is it that way for you, as well?). And I also understand choices.

So I’ve realized that for the past several years I’ve been choosing away from Paramedicine, but not because it sucks, but because there is so much to do, to tell, to love and to give. I love what I do when I go out in uniform and go places with my partner that someone in a room somewhere else tells us to go just because some other person called and asked for help. I love walking into a 26A that turns out to be 10D (fill “ho-hum” in the first slot and “do something now” in the latter), I love listening to people’s stories about why they need help, and I love finding the kernel of what I can actually help with in their story. I love sirens (when I’m working, not when I’m not) and opposing traffic and getting a nasal tube and chest darts and trans-cutaneous pacing and chasing your life faster than overlapping pathologies can. I love a good trauma because it lets me and people I work and train with do what we train to do, and when we’re good all at once, it’s most certain access to flow, to presence and to grace.

But (you knew there was one, right?) I’m realizing how much I love the life that I’ve woken up to realize I’ve  created: one of writing and coaching and teaching that creates quiet and flow and grace without sirens and chasing lives. And last year, while we lived in Silicon Valley for the hubs’ career and I took a break, I realized the UN-think-able: I can live without them. Yeah, I’ll just let that settle in, ’cause it took a while for me, too. I. Can. Live. … Without sirens and do-it-now.

CRazY. “Crazy!” I tell you! And here I have been, trying to craft a calendar, a schedule, a mind, a life that let’s me encompass the whole big, badass mess of my identities and activities. Tuesday will be my day on the streets; Mondays I’ll tend to accounts and licenses and the paperwork of business; Wednesdays I’ll work on the book and the launch; Thursdays and Fridays I’ll write for other awesome people because they treat me awesome and give me lovely things to do. Oh, and pay me pretty nicely. I’ll be sure to take weekends off to re-charge the ol’ creative battery and tend to that crazily amazing hubs and our groove, and to practice yoga and meditation every day (I’ll just slip it in between the this and the that), hike a lot (gotta enjoy the new hip) and enjoy the hot springs I longed for like a 13-year-old boy longs for real experience all last year when we were in Hippy Disneyland.

And Danielle LaPorte is right: Balance doesn’t exist. I wasn’t balanced when I was learning to be a Paramedic and holding onto it isn’t balancing me – it’s tipping me right over. Of all the -ings I’m embracing, it contributes the least to the life I’m creating. One of these things no longer fits with the other things. Not because other people don’t see how elegantly they go together (they did for oh-so-long), but because the life that feeds the -ings is no longer aligned with everything it takes to do that thing: the continuing education, the getting into and out of uniform (Hint: it’s more than putting on and taking off clothes), the never knowing when a shift will really end or how many nights I’ll dream of that man, that woman, the old couple saying goodbye, or the baby not crying when he should be. [I once knew a medic who said he didn’t do that (remember, get moved by). He wasn’t a very good person.]

So this morning I rose extra early to get my practice in before I went on call, just in case. Today’s my last day on duty, on call, on the hook, in the bus, my last day “just in case.” From now on, my life is not “just in case.” My life is for the burning fire of creativity and words and serving in another, a different, a new way. I’m choosing away from “just in case” and toward definitely here. I’m choosing away from “fitting it in” toward placing it carefully. I’m letting something awesome go so I can grab the awesome right in front of me with both arms. My practice is changing. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Resolution: Contentment

Samtosha: Contentment
Power of Intention 

 
 “Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness.”  ~Satchitananda
 
You might be thinking, “It’s New Years! It’s time to improve and strive and make plans! It’s time to loose weight, stop smoking, make a budget, exercise more & eat healthier! Those are the five most popular New Year’s Resolutions, after all. What’s all this talk about contentment?
 
Contentment both grows from and fuels practice.  Yoga is an empirical endeavor. All the theory in the universe doesn’t matter at all if a posture disturbs you, or tweaks an injury. Our time on the mat is an experiment in awareness, breath & embodiment. Practice gives us freedom to explore the relationship – or simply enjoy it! – between our body, breath & mind. Observing our breath as we work with opposing forces, muscularly, structurally and maybe even emotionally, gives us feedback about our mind & our relationship with the world. We adjust our posture, and maybe even sometimes our lives, accordingly.
 
As an experiment in breath-body-mind interaction, it is important to have clarity about what is the case before we start off into fantasy. Clarity can feel intimidating, perhaps even confrontational if there’s something on our mat we think we don’t want to see. Contentment comes not from satisfaction with whatever we find, nor from images of what we think we’d like. Contentment comes from realizing that what we want comes through acknowledging what is.
 
Contentment is not magic, nor is it part of the self-esteem movement. Acknowledgement of what is – called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach – brings us into the present moment. Investigation of what is brings us into this breath, how our body feels in this moment, and where in our body we feel a particular condition. The present moment is not a measure of time, which we know because of how our emotions effect our perception of time. The present moment, the Now as Eckhart Tolle dubs it, is always utterly unique in content but identical in form: it is timeless. This is our key to universal consciousness, always with us, never separated but not always acknowledged.
 
Aristotle, a yogi of a very different tradition, noted as the very foundation of his ethics that happiness is most reliably achieved not by aiming at happiness, but by participating in activity with full engagement. And his teacher, Plato, noted that all beings desire only happiness, we are just frequently deluded about what will bring us happiness. Since Resolutions are all about what we think will bring us happiness, perhaps it is wise to start with contentment on the mat: come to the mat, be “just as we are” and find out about that being. The intentions we plant spontaneously in that present moment take root in a far more powerful place than our daybooks or blackberries can capture.