Thursday, April 28, 2016

Snarl

Not my hair.
When things are not going so well (meaning, not going the way I want them to go), everything seems so complicated.  Yesterday, I was thinking about a couple of things that have not been going the way I want them to go and I got totally lost in the narrative about how I am correct and the hundred reasons why that is so.  There is a physical feeling to this state of being too - a tightness in my chest - and a kind of energy that is both thrilling (in a way) and exhausting.  It's hard work being so right all the time!  I had been in this state for a few days - my mind building and maintaining my case in preparation for its presentation to the Supreme Court.  Or, at least, the Supreme Court of My Own Head, which, lucky for me, had already decided in my favor.

I taught two yoga classes yesterday afternoon.  In the course of that, I was moving and breathing deeply.  Then I went to the Temple, where we were having a Fusatsu or Renewal of Vows ceremony.  It is a beautiful thing.  We atone for the ways that we have hurt ourselves and others, then the teacher gives a short talk about the precepts (the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha) and we chant the Four Vows of a Bodhisattva.  Like I said, it is a beautiful ceremony.  For the first time, I was the doan, or instrumentalist.  It is not difficult - not like playing the piano or something - and there is a book that lists the cues but still, I had to be on my toes so I wouldn't miss anything.

Somewhere in the middle of chinging and gonging, an image came to my mind.  The image was of how the back of one's head of hair can become a big, messy snarl or knot (do people still use the term "snarl"?  It seems kind of old fashioned.)  Suddenly I saw this snarl of hair as being just like my state when I am deep in my narrative that sets myself up as right and others as wrong.  Everything is tight and twisted and it hurts.  As I followed the ceremony through the instruments that I was playing, I thought: this practice, this moving and breathing and sitting still, is like the comb that takes all these hairs that are knotted up and untangles them.  It doesn't get rid of the hair.  It just kind of sorts it out into a less painful orientation.

When I mentioned this image to one of my teachers, she agreed but cautioned that forcing the comb would just makes the snarl even worse.  And then she said, "The knot isn't so bad either."

The knot isn't so bad either.

Snarl, 2016.  Ink on paper.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Earth Body


When my dead friend came to me, she said,
“This is the body that I always wanted!”

How foolish we are - scrambling around -
afraid for our lives.

Today was so beautiful -
The azaleas blooming
The lilacs offering their shy evening scent
That knocks you out once you get to know them.
And the green, green, green.
The quality of it.

Do you have the ability to see the tulips open in the warm morning sun?

What is that scratchy film that covers everything?
The annoying guy with a backpack on the subway.
The big project that I keep putting off.
My son, who won’t get a job.

The body that I always wanted to have is this body.
Living, breathing Earth body.
Soil and azalea and subway body
Tulip and unemployed son body.

This is the body I always wanted to have.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Do As The Fish Do


Inverness, Cape Breton, NS.

Are you jealous of the ocean's generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?

Fish don't hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim in the huge, fluid freedom.

 - Rumi

Friday, April 08, 2016

Do You Know How To Make A Mistake?

May I direct your attention to Amanda Green?  She also is enrolled in the YATNA yoga therapy training.  I read her blog before that training started and, I fear, was a bit star struck in the dorkiest way imaginable when I first introduced myself.  Fortunately, she didn't hold it against me.  In her blog (which she writes/posts every Thursday so sign up and get the links emailed to you!), she often takes up one of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra-s and talks about it in a way that brings it out of the esoteric and makes it relatable to everyday life, all while being funny and honest.  It's no small feat!

This week, her post is about her two daughters taking piano lessons.  I won't say too much because I want you to go read it for yourself but the gist of it is "Do it well.  Do it with a good attitude.  Do it for a long time.  And you will become it."  This is her paraphrasing of YS I.17.  She illustrates it with how her daughters are taking up their piano studies in different ways and then brings it back onto herself, examining her yoga studies (and life in general).  It's good stuff!

For me, her post points to something that I have been thinking a lot about lately - namely, making mistakes.  When we are learning something new, we make a lot of mistakes.  I think this is where "do it with a good attitude" comes in.  If I am getting frustrated and angry with myself about making mistakes, then chances are that I won't get to the next step, "do it for a long time".  Sometimes that is fine - we don't have to be experts in everything.  But sometimes we miss opportunities to just enjoy our experiences when we are caught up in "I can't do it!" or "I should be better at this!"  

I have been both teacher and student a lot recently.  Watching others learn - and watching myself learn - is what got me thinking about how we react to our mistakes.  When I begin to learn something new, it is as if there is a grey, wooly fuzz all over everything.  I can't see clearly; things are vague and I am bumping up against them unexpectedly i.e. making lots of mistakes.  For pretty much my whole life, I have hated this part of learning new things.  I couldn't wait for the fuzz to clear and the shapes to sharpen so that I could be able to see through it all with technicolor clarity.  I would work, work, work to get to that place as quickly as possible.  And I have refused to try new things because of not wanting to experience that grey, fuzzy place.

As I think about it more, I realize that there is something quite beautiful about that grey, fuzzy place.  Because I have no idea what I am doing, I am paying attention like crazy.  It is actually a pretty wonderful state to be in.  I have started to think that maybe I should savor that state, or at least, appreciate it just a little more before rushing towards mastering my skill.  

Ok, so maybe if you are George W. Bush and you are sending soldiers into Iraq, you don't get to savor your mistakes.  But for most of us, what's a lousy drawing?  A sloppy yoga asana?  Missing the cue to ring a bell in the zendo?  Or even a poorly worded reply to our children or loved one?  My experience has been that, if I can be sincerely trying without trying (through gritted teeth) other people can accept our mistakes more light-heartedly too.  After all, we all make'em!  Of course, there is also sincerely apologizing when our mistakes hurt someone.

It's so useful to make mistakes.  It's so useful to make mistakes so it would be good to have a way of making them that allows us to hold them loosely and lightly (while still paying attention like crazy).  Then, we get that ananda (see Amanda's post) sooner rather than later.  The grey fuzz will clear eventually too.  But the joy of it is always there for us, no matter if we are buried under grey fuzz or floating through life with razor-sharp clarity.  The joy of it is always there, even in the mistakes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Earth is Calling



The Earth is Calling and She Wants You Back

How the Earth created you in the first place:
Maybe there was some wine -
Grapes harvested, pressed, fermented with billions of bacteria.  Drunk!
Protein and hormones and enzymes, nourished by blood.
Truly born of this Earth.
It can’t be otherwise.

Now I squat over the ground
Watching blood drip, drip, drip
onto fallen leaves
The Earth drinks it up eagerly
How much longer?

When I rest my cheek on the cool, damp loam
Or shoot my arms through the ocean waves,
I remember how the next time might be as ashes.
The water lapping me back up -
Taking back what is rightfully her’s.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Equinox




I want to talk to you about power.
What I mean is:
That first robin to sing just before dawn.
A spring breeze across your cheek.
The crocus opening the day before a snowstorm.

You want to talk about tsunami-s?
Let me tell you about how every blade of grass
Is a full-on party of blade of grassness.
How the cricket sings among the leaves every evening –
Being 100% cricket.
No audience required.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, raging oceans?
How about the dark side of the moon
That has never once wondered
How you are doing.

Welcome…
Welcome, sweet lover.

Please – make yourself at home.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Layer Upon Layer

What the heck?
After losing my studio to gentrification in Long Island City, I developed the brilliant scheme to buy a fixer-upper in Ulster or Greene County, NY, as a studio.  On a very limited budget, I would buy a house that would serve as a live/work space that I could use three or four days/week.  It would offer me a place where I could get solid time in my studio and still be able to continue to teach yoga in the city.  It would be reasonably near the Monastery so I could organize my time around getting there once/week and it would cost less than what I was paying for my space in LIC.  Even the guy who is my financial planner thought it was a good idea, and hey - it isn't often that my ideas get the thumbs up from anyone with any financial know-how.  I have been trolling Trulia and Zillow ever since.

Let's just say that, within my budget range, one encounters a fair bit of squalor.  I have made two excursions upstate to look at places and it is clear that a good deal of sweat equity will be required.  I don't mind that - at all really - but looming large over this whole endeavor is the question - can I really own three houses?  It's absurd!

Added to the layers of possibilities is the fact that my nest is emptying and soon I will have total freedom to decide where I want to live.  That might happen as early as this fall.  My long-awaited dream of  living in Newfoundland could become reality.   But if that is so, why buy upstate?  And what about the Monastery?  Or the Temple in Brooklyn, for that matter.  Can I do yoga therapy in Newfoundland, or rather, would anyone pay me to do yoga therapy there?  And what about the boy friend?  (The what???)

So many questions.

Meanwhile, I started some new work that I can manage while I don't have a studio space.  It involves locks of Lucy's hair from when she was a toddler and old blankets.  It might be hard to understand but I am very excited about this new turn of events.  In the midst of all this coming and going, it feels like the perfect antidote.  As my friend Patti just said to me when I was blathering on and on about all the possible ways the future could play out, all will become clear...in the stillness, the answer will come.  I believe this wholeheartedly because I lived it, over and over again.  I have faith in it so much so that I don't actually worry (too much) about it.  My job is to create the stillness.  Likewise, I have faith in that little rush of adrenaline that I get when I start a new art project that promises to be Something Big.  Yes, right now it just looks like a pony tail and an old blanket, but please believe me when I tell you, there's something very exciting going on there.

One house?  Three houses?  Upstate?  Newfoundland?  Hair?  Blankets? Maybe I should just become a monk and ditch it all!  Or maybe I could spend my time looking at cute cat pictures on the internet, like this one:

Not conducive to stillness.

The possibilities are endless!



Saturday, March 05, 2016

Loosen Up Already

Whoo-whoo
Recently, I started working with Elizabeth Cunningham-Bossart, who is the Ayurvedic doctor who lead our third module of yoga therapy training.  Around the time that Senjin was actively dying and I was cracking teeth from the stress of it all, I thought that maybe I needed a little extra help.  She spent about two-hours asking me a lot personal questions (Ayurveda is very interested in your poop!) and then she gave me some recommendations for lifestyle changes, things to eat, things not to eat and a few other things like herbs, etc..

Some of what she suggested was easily added to my daily routine and some was a little more challenging.  For one, she wasn't too keen on coffee drinking.  Personally, I subscribe to what Pattabhi Jois is supposed to have said, "No coffee, no prāna."  In fact, I especially love a nice cup of coffee after I finish my Ashtanga mysore practice.  She wasn't so keen on my Ashtanga mysore practice either.  Both the coffee and the Ashtanga are vāta aggravating, which knocks my pitta out of balance.  Got that?

The long and short of it seemed to be that movement is good for my kapha (I am almost tri-dośic, meaning having almost equal amounts of all three of the main dośa-s but that annoying pitta wants to be in charge, as any good pitta worth its salt would!) but she wanted it to include some unstructured dance.  Apparently my leaning towards Ashtanga and ballet further revealed my pitta nature's need to control.  Hey, I like a few rules so that my vāta nature can break them.  (Are you getting all this?)  And this is how I came to be in a room yesterday evening with about 50 other people for my first experience of 5Rhythms.

I gave myself permission to do some things (jeez, more pitta) so that the possibility of having a good experience would increase.  I allowed myself to: 1. suspend judgement.  I knew there would be a fair amount of writhing and whatnot that normally would have me cringing and running in the opposite direction.  So - suspend judgement.  2.  Allow myself to have thoughts about looking good or bad  (possibly related to suspending judgement).   I thought that I had to allow myself to just have those thoughts - not necessarily get caught up in them -  but also not scold myself for having them.  And 3. I told myself that it would be okay to keep my eyes lowered.  I thought that I might find it too hard to maintain #1 if I spent much time watching other people in the room.

Was there writhing?  You betcha.  Did I think, "I am the greatest 5Rhythms dancer ever!" and "this is horrible, get me the hell out of here pronto!"?  Yes and yes.  Did I occasionally regret looking up?  Oh yes.  Let's face it, 5Rhythms is pretty high on the list (or should be) of Things White People Do and it is like shooting fish in a barrel, if one were of the inclination to mock it.  But you know what?  For all its being whoo-whoo and kind of pseudo-spiritual, it was fun.  I did find a kind of freedom and release in just moving around without any rules and without having to be doing anything specific or engaging with anyone else.  It turns out that dancing in a roomful of strangers for two hours is pretty liberating.  And did I mention that it is fun?  My vāta, pitta and kapha also approved.

Sometimes it is ok - or even more than ok - to do things that might make you cringe.  I mean, so what if we all looked totally absurd?  Looking absurd and having fun sounds a lot better than standing stiffly on the sidelines making snarky remarks.  And I say this as a world class expert at standing stiffly on the sidelines making really excellent snarky remarks.

Whoo-whoo!

Friday, March 04, 2016

Here We Are




Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

 Excerpted from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Taking Space

Losing my studio and a comment from the beloved Jan has got me thinking about how we occupy space, particularly us women.  The power I felt at being able to close the door to my studio back in 1992 still resonates with me, if anything, even more deeply.  Obviously, I am not the first to make note of it.  We are most fortunate to have Virginia Woolf's extended essay A Room of One's Own to look more closely at what this is about.  It might be time for a re-read!

Not too many years after I moved into my studio in LIC, I attended my first artist residency up at the Vermont Studio Center.  It was a month-long residency and each week a different artist would visit and offer critiques, both individual and group.  I remember one artist who came who was a painter (I have forgotten her name, sad to say) and, after visiting each of our studios (there were probably about ten of us there at the same time) she made the observation that women often accept the space they are given and make accommodations around whatever is there, whereas men will come in and shift things around to suit their purposes.  I have thought of that observation so many time since, particularly when I find myself making a painting or drawing and reaching for my materials in some awkward way because I haven't actually set myself up to best support what I am doing.  Making a drawing need not be a game of Twister and yet the number of times I have found myself doing just that has been many.  Many.

I think too about a time when my Zen teacher was talking about the notion, frequently mentioned in Zen, of fully occupying the ground under your feet.  A woman in the sangha raised her hand and said something like, "I am happy to occupy any ground you tell me to occupy - really!  Just point it out and I will go stand there!  But to take up a space myself..?"  And she started to cry.

Even more recently, in Nashville, I was assigned to teach a group class for people (three women, as it happened) with SI joint issues.  I wish I could say that I based my class on my deep anatomical knowledge of the pelvis and its surrounding muscles, etc., but instead, I woke up one morning before class with the clear sense that what I needed to do as to offer safety and emotional healing and an encouragement to take up space.  It was a little unorthodox but fortunately my mentor has faith in my intuition, even when I sent him away while he was observing the class so the four of us could talk without men present.  There was a kind of gasp in the room when I directly told the class to situate themselves in such a way so they could occupy as much space as they wanted.  Indeed, I think I said, "Take up space!  Take as much room as you need!  Don't accommodate anything!"  Stuff happened in that class.

As I begin my search for a new space in which to make art, I feel downright unapologetic about it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The End of An Era

It's an old story, especially in New York...


Artists move in to the place where no one else wants to go.  In search of space to work, they exchange safety and hygiene for high ceilings and open floor plans.  They bring a new appreciation to places where everyone else has packed up and moved on.  Coal mine canaries.  Once the air is safe to breathe, more people flood in, perhaps looking for a little bit of that edgy cool.  Soon enough, and predictably enough, the artists can no longer afford to stay in the place that they created.

It's an old story.  Especially in New York.  


In Long Island City, it has been a little different.  The artists arrived - and stayed - and not much happened for a good, long while.  Every few years, a New York Times article would declare it "The Next Big Thing" but it never really happened.  Until it happened.

I moved into my studio in 1992.  I started with a huge space - it must have been over 800 sq.ft. for $400/month, which seemed really pricey.  Eventually, I moved to a smaller space for under $200/month.  Finally, I ended up in another space, which I have been in for about 20 years.  

About eight years ago, I discovered that I could now get a really good cup of coffee in the neighborhood.  In the last several years, parking became even more scarce - weekends and after 4 p.m. were no longer guarantees of a space.  When that first cafe that opened was forced out of its space because of rising rents, the reality of what had happened to Long Island City was no longer deniable.  The Next Big Thing had finally come into its own.  

Last October, the studio building was sold.  In November, a guy in a suit came around under the guise of getting to know us.  Spying, more likely!  He made no secret that the plan was to double the rent by the end of the year.  Then, my studio mate moved out in January.  Clearly, it was time to go.


If I had to choose my most prominent memory, it might be the most poignant one too.  In fact, it might be my very first memory from way back in 1992.  I remember moving my supplies into that big space and getting all set up to work and closing the door.  It was such a radical, revolutionary, revelatory act.  In all my life, I had never had a place where I could work without anyone looking over my shoulder.  I remember feeling like I could do anything - it was that powerful.

Farewell Mittman Building!  We've been through a lot together.  Good luck!  In the end, I think you might need it more than me...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Old School



Last weekend, I took a workshop with artist, Pat Steir.  She reminded me of some of my professors in art school: her attitude and aspiration.  She isn't trying to be clever.  She kept saying things like, "Don't show me how smart you are.  I am not interested."  I guess saying that sort of thing that gets you labelled "old school" because it isn't about showing off or shouting the loudest but, instead, it is about really trying to understand something.  Realize something beyond superficialities.

Of course, Pat is a very successful painter who has been in the game for a long time, so I won't romanticize her either.  She knows how to hustle.  Still, it was quite refreshing to meet someone who is still talking the talk after so many years of hustling.  I think this is my favourite line from the short video she made with the Met.

"Any work of art that hits its mark is a useful object because it changes the person who see it."


Friday, February 19, 2016

Your Life is in Your Hands

In Nashville, I had a nice little morning routine going.  Get up around 5:30, do my abhyanga (ayurvedic oiling), pour out a 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, make a cup of tea, do some asana or some zazen, drink said tea, take a shower, drink said pomegranate juice, then go to our morning group practice at 7 am.  The day would flow from there.  As someone who has resisted schedules and routines and list making like the plague, the fact that this morning ritual brought such a sense of order and grounding to the hectic, relentless pace of our time was a bit of a surprise.


Not just about the coffee....

And it was no surprise at all.  I know that a self care routine is a good thing.  Knowing it and living are two different things.  Coming back to New York, I immediately fell into my old ways of waking up at various times each day, making lots of last minute decisions about whether or not to include this or that practice in my morning.  Suddenly I was aware of how it all felt kind of off somehow.  Then I had a thought - this is my life.  And a second thought - this is my body.  I may not be in control of either of those two things but I am in charge of them.


Somehow, after years of various practices and disciplines, I still was holding on to the idea that everything was outside of me, beyond my doing.  But, in fact, it is as simple as: get up at 5:30 am, rub some oil on, make tea and so on.  No one is telling me to do it.  No one is asking me to do it.  No one is watching me do it.  Indeed, having stretched your patience and goodwill with even writing this blog post, no one cares one whit whether or not I do it.  And this, my beauties, allows me the most wonderful freedom to just do it.

No need to speak of it futther.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Is Fear A Kind Of Addiction?


No thanks.

It is not a secret that I am afraid to fly.  Having a rather domestic life, I haven't had that many opportunities to fly in the past 20 years so it hasn't been a big problem.  In 2009, I went to Berlin for an art project and, two years later, I flew to Korea, again for an art project.  Both were long flights but I managed them with the help of some Atavan and a Norman Fischer essay on shikantaza.

in the past six months, I deliberately created two opportunities to fly and it really did not go well in either case.  Most recently, it was the night before my flight and as I wrestled with my demons - in tears at times - Lucy came home.   I was sharing a little with her and she called out from the kitchen, "Have you built up a big rationalization of why you can't go yet?"  Ouch!  But the truth is - I had done exactly that.

Looking closer, there is something deeper than just fearing flying.  If I am perfectly honest, the actual experience of flying is kind of exhilarating once the plane is in the air - I mean, how could it not be?  So clearly there is something else going on, and maybe that is case with any kind of deep fear or phobia.  Talking with a close friend, he suggested that there was a similarity between this fear and what goes on with someone who has an addiction.  Certainly, I can see how I am letting people down: making promises and failing to live up to those promises because this force is leading my behaviors.  The urges feel overwhelming and the "solution" in my mind (cancel the flight) feels correct even when I know, in my heart, that each time I don't fly at the last minute, I am reinforcing something that isn't healthy.  I think the analogy with an addiction has some merit.

Perhaps, like an addiction, the first step is admitting that you have a problem and asking for help.  I can see that I do need help with this fear and whatever it is that lies behind it.  The feeling of the fear is miserable.  It is awful on every level and yet it is my go-to reaction.  So what's up with that?  I assume people with addictions can see how it is ruining their lives and hurting people around them, and yet they still make that move to pour another drink or light up one more time.  Reflecting more, I wonder at how it happens that I allow myself to be in that state of extreme fear.  It's not like I have no tools for settling my mind!  My experience this past time wasn't that I couldn't access those tools, it was that I didn't even remember them!

The one thing that I did differently this time was that I didn't beat myself up about it.  Yes, it needs some attention and to be addressed but, also, it is part of being in the human realm.  I don't need to make it a big deal and yet, I shouldn't ignore it either.

How about you?  Any big fears that are also no big deal?