Monday, April 30, 2012

Just Enough

It was a full weekend.  

It was a teacher training weekend.  My community class went well.  People played with pasasana without getting too hung up on getting into the fullest expression of it, which was my goal.  One aspect of teaching the community classes is that we spend about five minutes at the end giving and getting constructive feedback.  It is a very helpful thing and something rarely encountered.  It is lovely when people tell me that they enjoyed my class but I really need to know what wasn't working and why.  So it was good to hear not just the likes but the dislikes.  

After my class, a seasoned teacher came in and we explored how to teach advanced asana, which in this case meant two hours of inversions.  I freely admit that I do not love inversions mainly because they are difficult for me.  I am a late-comer to them so I am still very much working with my fears about being upside down.  Plus, doing two hours of inversions right after lunch of disgusting.  Then we moved right into arm balances.  There are people who love inversions and arm balances (they always seem to love them both) and then, there is me.  It is good to notice the stories that come up when revealing my weaknesses in public.  Yes, good to notice and then move along.

Sunday, I skipped the morning teacher training session since it was information I had already studied several times and helped out with our Zen Kids program.

The program is almost a year old now.  We have a great core group of 3 −5 year olds and Lucy joins us to help out.  We have quickly learned that we need to be able to let go of our well-laid plans at any moment if that is the way things are going.  The kids are our teachers.  I think the program has really cultivated a welcoming atmosphere for families with smaller children.  When I started coming, I felt rather alone in having younger children.  I understood that sitting zazen isn't really a family-friendly activity but it felt like something was missing.  So it is wonderful that there is this acknowledgement that the sangha includes the whole family.  And it is very fun to have little ones around the Temple.  Adults aren't always so interesting, you know?

Finally, I am pleased to share that I am now officially doing the complete primary series in my mysore practice.  I had been doing the wholes series with a previous teacher but when I switched teachers, the new ones (they work as a pair) put me back to navasana, which is considered half-way through the series.  I was a bit insulted to be honest.  It was a test of my ego and a lesson in humility.  Let me tell you, I didn't go quietly into the night.  I struggled and resisted and got pissed off.  They let me stew in it and they kept me at navasana for a good, long time.  Slowly, I got one more asana.  Then another.  At a certain point, I found myself feeling content: it felt like just enough.  I didn't want or need anything else.  My cup felt full.  Of course, just as that happened, they gave me the rest of the series rather quickly, including the last asana - setu bandhasana - today.

Photo of Finnish practioner, Petri Raisanan, in setu bandhasana from here.  He is making it look very pleasant and easy, which has not been my experience in it at all.
I have mixed feelings about this asana.  I am not convinced it is so great for necks over 40.  I have heard that David Williams does not teach it any more because he feels it isn't a safe asana.  It is hard to say.  So many things that I have feared or filled me with dread, I have come to appreciate over time (hello, drop backs, I am speaking to you), so perhaps that is the case here too.

How much is just enough?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Community Class Tomorrow

Azaleas in the front yard (two weeks ago).
Tomorrow I will be teaching an one-hour community class at Sacred Sounds Yoga (163 Bleecker Street in Manhattan) from 11 am to 12 pm.  It is free!  The class will be in the Desikachar tradition so expect some chanting, asana with classical vinyasas and pranayama.  We will working our way up to pasasana, a deceptively challenging twist and squat, but one that has many modifications available so everyone should be able to enjoy some good, twisty action.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Moving In and Out of Silence

Recently, my friend Patti wrote very movingly about her first experience at a silent retreat.  She is pursuing a course the Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School and this retreat was part of their training.  I think she was very brave to put her feelings into words and then share them.  I know that, for myself, I have mostly avoided writing about my experiences at sesshin.  In part this is because they are private and need to stay that way but, in another way, I avoid it because I feel that I simply have no words to describe what it is like to spend a week not speaking, keeping my eyes lowered, and foregoing any social niceties.  However, Patti has inspired me to take a chance and be a little more forthcoming.  I think the world could benefit if more people spent more time sitting in silence, so if reading Patti's account of her experiences or what follows intrigues you enough to consider taking yourself into silence, then it will be worth it.  Maybe.

The first time I did a sesshin, it was a during a weekend in Brooklyn.  I arrived on a Friday afternoon and it ended on Sunday morning.  Finn and Lucy were still of an age that required constant adult presence so I had to arrange for them to have somewhere to be on the Friday and it all felt very complicated.  Indeed, I spent about three-quarters of that sesshin, or maybe something like seven-eighths, feeling like I should not have abandoned them, that I should not be there and plotting how I might leave.  The only thing that stopped me from leaving was that it would mean I would be too embarrassed to ever come back and I knew that never coming back was unacceptable, so I stayed.  On Saturday night, I finally allowed myself to really be there.  The whole world looked exactly the same - I am sure that anyone looking at me would have said that I looked exactly the same - but the whole world had shifted and I know I can safely say that I was not the same person that I had been one second before.  That moment of transition, from resistance to acceptance, was a true turning point for me.  It never would have happened if I had not been in silence during that time.  I needed the silence - even as it was filled with the stories I was telling myself, often at very high volume - in order to come that moment.

But the silence was hard.  I really didn't understand it and I had a hard time understanding people not looking at each other or using any kind of facial expression to make contact.  I took it personally and was wondering what was up with these people, all walking around looking so dour.  When the silence was lifted and everyone opened up and became outwardly animated again, I was totally taken aback.  How was it possible that these stone-faced people were suddenly so friendly and alive?

I really didn't understand it but I knew I wanted more.  Ever so slowly, I have come to see the silence as a wonderful gift.  To sit in a room with 100 other people (sesshin at the Monastery get crowded!) in complete silence, with only the birds singing outside, is a beautiful and profound gift.  Also, the silence makes the words that I do hear become filled with such strength that they can go deeper than if I had heard them among the chatter of my everyday life.  I once read a book about the history of art and the author pointed out that, in medieval or renaissance times, most people had no visual imagery in their lives save for the one painting they might see when they went to church (and that might only be very rarely depending on their circumstances).  Imagine the power of that one painting!  I think of that when I think about how I receive the words I hear during sesshin.  There are so few of them and their power is immediate and strong.  Fortunately, the people wielding the words are doing it with exacting attention to what they are saying and with an understanding of their impact.

Leaving a week of silence and returning to social niceties is a difficult transition.  I always have a moment (or longer) of dreading it and wishing we could just go on a bit longer.  I suspect most people do.  But
I always come around and find new delight in being able to chat with my neighbor.  Perhaps there is something worthwhile in just that right there.

With an infinite number of ways we can choose to spend our time, the choice to be silent can seem crazy or a luxury or impractical or just stupid.  I would suggest that it is critical, vital even, to our ability to be able to step forward in this world that needs so much more care and attention than it is currently receiving.  I wish that everyone might not just find an opportunity to experience it but make the opportunity to do it.  Make it happen and then let's see what happens.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pictures of People Taking Pictures

At Finn's request, we went to the New York Auto Show.  While I can't say that I understood its attraction, I did enjoy adding to my collection of pictures of people taking pictures (and looking at things).

I include this one only because it was the only plant-based life in evidence in the entire Jacob Javits Convention Center.  It was part of a display of RVs made by Mercedes-Benz.  I am not sure why they warranted fake plants but even in their very plastic-ness they were a welcome relief to the eyes.  Or, to these eyes anyway.

PS.  I will be away at sesshin this week.  See you next week!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Of A Friday

Enjoying these things:

I Let Go by Erica J. Schmidt.  When I gave Erica, aka the Exuberant Bodhisattva, a Liebster Award a while back, she generously sent me a copy of her new book, I Let Go.  It is available on for the very low, low price of $2.00.  It says Kindle edition, but you can get it both for an e-reader and just as a pdf file.  It is less than the cost of a subway ride but it is much more fun and it smells way better.  Update:  According to Erica, "The PDF file isn't actually for sale, but if people don't have e-readers, they can still read the Amazon version by downloading a free kindle app."

Henri the Cat

My friend who teaches French at Columbia says he needs a French tutor.  Alors, just one more of life's indignities.

This is one of Finnian's drawings from his life drawing class at the New York Studio School.  He has been making some beautiful drawings.  It has been very exciting to witness his development, even just how he has dealt with drawing naked people each week.  I wasn't so sure how it would be, as a 15 year old boy.  This one made me laugh:  here he is confronted with a very large, nude woman, laying on a platform.  His chosen point of focus?  Her iPhone.  It's all about priorities, I guess.

And some yarn.  Chain-plied merino from a hand painted fleece from Widdershin Woolworks that was, oh, I don't know, picked up on a little jaunt to Taos.  You know how it is....

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Warning: Kitty Kat Kuteness

Spring is here - our lilacs are in bloom and Lucy has been training the cats to go outside with a harness.  They mostly creep along close to the ground and then roll around in the dust.  A neighbor's cat, named Eddie, who is actually quite sweet, came over and bopped Webster on the head the other morning.  Webster was all like "hey, life was good until just a second ago...what happened?"

Lucy also is toilet training them (she bought a book about it in Asheville).  But, kind hearted as she is, she has been lightening up on the toilet training while she trains them on the harness.  She said she didn't want to overwhelm them with new information.

One could eat no fat and one could eat no lean.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Vanity Made Me Do It

For the past month or so, I have been making a video about old age, illness and death, but you know, with a sense of humour.  It might be a total disaster in the end but I am enjoying making it immensely.  The thread running through it is my yoga practice.  Oh dear god no!  I know that is what you are saying.  And who can blame you since watching someone doing their yoga practice is pretty dull stuff unless you are Kino MacGregor in her short shorts.

It is all in how you extend your big toe, I swear.
In case you were wondering, I am not Kino MacGregor.

It has been quite a challenge to make the yoga shots interesting.  My effort to do that has led to all sorts of funny business because, you see, my yoga practice is quite wrapped up - for good and ill - in my ideas about old age, illness and death.  It is my way of aging gracefully and healthfully.  And truth be told, it also is tied up in my vanity.  My biceps and triceps are, by far, looking hotter these days than they ever did when I was 25.  In fact, my whole body is looking pretty darned toned these days.  Fifty chaturanga dandasana a day have to have some effect, I guess.

So, I thought I would explore this double-edged sword of my practice.  In video format.

The temptation not to include shots of me falling over, missing the mark and otherwise looking like a klutz is strong.  Just the shots of getting both legs behind my head, please.  We'll see.  Meanwhile, at teacher training, the anatomy instructor, who is herself a dancer, made several in-joke references to me as if she believed I was a ballet dancer.  Once I understood what she was getting at (wait, what? is she speaking French to me? why?), I felt a huge surge of....what?  Pride?  Happiness? Amazement?  Well, whatever it was, it wasn't very healthy.  Time to look at that shot of me toppling out of Virabhadrasana A (fer chrissakes!) again....

No worries, Kino!  Unless there is a sudden demand for videos of sweaty, red-faced, middle aged women muddling through Primary series, your career and shorts are safe with me.  But you, dear reader, can begin to look forward to it now.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

It's Better Than A Joke

Here is a trick for April Fool's Day - not a joke, just an amazing trick that you, too, can do with your own body.

First, Sit on the ground with your legs out straight.

Second, find your right (or left - just pick one) pubic bone.  Yes, it is where it sounds like it is.  Find it and keep a finger or two on it.

Third, reach forward with only your right (or left - if you chose your left pubic bone) big toe.  Not dramatically, just extend your big toe (only) a wee bit, which is really all you can do anyway so don't worry about it, just do it.

Did you feel it?

Did you know that your other toes each directly connect to and can cause movement in other areas of your pelvis?

Freaking amazing!