Thursday, April 28, 2016


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.