Thursday, June 4, 2020

Reckoning


As a man identified as white, I will admit - with shame - that I have been silent. I have witnessed racism and not spoken. Whether out of discomfort or fear of confrontation, that ends now.

In order to contribute Good to our collective, shared reality, we need to implement a zero tolerance policy. This needs to be done in our schools - and it makes me sad to say that it needs to start in pre-school. This needs to be done at gatherings of family and friends, in every place of work and commerce, and it needs to be done in our every exchange.

The anger right now is a justified and needed tool offered for all of humanity.

In order to bring forth the inherent equity of every One, we must acknowledge sovereignty. We are sovereign in our nature. We are sovereign in our ability to change and effect change. We are sovereign even when we cannot express it. Even when we are suppressed and oppressed. Even when we are violated. Even when our life is ended against our will. Sovereignty does not require acknowledgment to be real. It inherently is.

Of course, when sovereignty is disregarded or disrespected or violated, it is painful. It is sad. It is unacceptable. But it is real nonetheless. The sun does not need to be respected for its light and warmth, the earth does not need to be respected (or protected) as the source of life, the moon does not need respect for overseeing our oceans’ tides, in order for it all to be true.

Certainly consequences come from the resulting pain of actions that attack or violate sovereignty, but actions and consequences are separate from sovereignty. Even when a life has been disgustingly snuffed out. I say this with certainty, because we must honor that sovereignty exists beyond anyone’s recognition of it.

And if (and unfortunately when) we witness a challenge to the natural sovereignty of any individual, we need to meet such a challenge with dismissal. It is not ok. It has never been ok. The attempted reduction of another sovereign being - be it through violence, through words, or societal programming, is barbaric and born out of evil. Humanity is not served by barbarism and we can reject it. It has gone on long enough.

I say ‘attempted reduction’ because it is just that: attempted. We can violate, we can dehumanize, we can restrict - and the impact of those sorts of actions is real and huge; but, ‘inherent’ also means just that... No one can diminish your sovereignty.

But freedom is another issue. Freedom can be controlled. Freedom can be culturally, economically, and physically taken away. We all have a responsibility to ensure it does not.

What is true within One is true within all.

So yes, the change begins within you, especially if you find yourself more of a horrified observer (or activist, or ally) than a victim, but it also requires systemic change. The adjustments needed to our socio-political-economic systems will not be made just from awakening to the collective reality. They will require overt action. And if, by chance, you feel uncertain about the next steps forward, do - please - start with yourself.

Hold your sovereignty in the dismissal of that which is evil, of that which is counterproductive to the inherent sovereignty of all...of ways of thinking and operating that are now irrelevant. Hold your sovereignty and find your strength in order to even begin to meet the strength that has been especially required any one that has systemically been forced to worry about functioning or existing in society - so that you can be a harbinger of the change that, unless it comes, will degrade us all in God’s eyes.

The above photo, by Jeff Malet, is from the dance “A Tribute to Marian Anderson”, which my husband and his amazing dance company (Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company) premiered in February at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

I think I am much better
Than how I used to be
The issue is my friends are gone
And replaced...by a tree.

The tree is very soothing
It listens and it speaks
It heals and cares and expels air
Much higher than its reach.

For its branches and its trunk
Are barely half the story
While I've felt my mind has shrunk
Tree enriches in full glory

The roots go so much further
Than upturned balls will tell
Heaven in its nurture
While air, sea, land scream hell

We may not yet comprehend
The damage that we cause
But revelations come regardless
Of callousness or pause

The tree is a good friend
Much smarter than myself
It holds so many things in place
Without respect or help

Speaking many languages
To many forms of life
Connected to the world wide web
All creatures and all strife

You see a tree is not just
An individual above the ground
It is the entire forest
Air, dirt, shrooms, and sounds.

Sure the tree could grow alone
And try to fill your lungs
But better with its ancient ones
Undisturbed in their functions

So I realize I may stand alone
If alone to stand I choose
But like a tree, the forest calls
To heal, to love, to soothe.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

FOEE: Fear of Enjoyment Ending

I don’t listen well sometimes. Not to others and not to my self.

Lessons from different teachers, seekers…and YouTube videos…that I’ve been exposed to have led me to believe that there are three voices: the internal voice – the voice of Self; the external voice -  other people, the World beyond the Self; and, the voice of Now - something rather ultimate and all-pervasive. When the internal and external voices are in conflict, we are in conflict. When we listen more in balance to all three voices, we are more balanced...more in alignment. And alignment is enjoyable.

As we experience alignment, it becomes difficult to be out of alignment. As we experience enjoyment, we can notice when things are in contrast to enjoyment, and the lack of enjoyment becomes uncomfortable.

Enjoyment can be any type of happiness (perhaps the act of creating, or experiencing beauty, or exercise, or being in nature...) and despite the discomfort we experience from its lack, we often have a strange resistance to it...to allowing ourselves to think thoughts, and say words, and do things that bring enjoyment. We are resistant to enjoyment. I would suppose out of fear of its stopping. Fear of enjoyment ending, or FOEE (pronounced foo-ee).

Yet one of the only collective certainties is change. So how can one fully enjoy the experience of…experiencing…if we know that everything is temporary? How does one enjoy change?

Attachment to permanence is a major source of my resistance. I have felt it much of my life. I have been a longtime sufferer, not yet fully recovered, of FOEE.

My wanting to 'hold on' to good-feelingness - or good-feeling moments - is likely the root of my anxiety. A result of not yet having the tools to allow the enjoyment of things even with the awareness that 'this too shall pass'. I have always hated that phrase.

Is this what the Buddhists and Hindus and others mean when they say to avoid attachments?

This past Wednesday, I interviewed Diane Rehm, who I have listened to on the radio since I was a kid on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show. It was an honor. The evening was with diverse guests at the Arts Club of Washington, and centered around her newest book: When My Time Comes.

While preparing for the interview, I remembered that she had spoken at American University while I was a student there. It was the 2007 Commencement Address for the College of Arts and Sciences. I wasn’t graduating that year. But even though I did not see the speech live, I was able to look it up in the university’s online archives, and watch it. It is a beautiful speech.

One of the things Diane talks about in the speech is how she became a listener, which had to do with her upbringing as the daughter of Arab immigrant parents who did not support her receiving an education. She was told she was not supposed to ask questions. So she listened to others…teachers, friends, her husband…she learned from listening. And synchronistically she became able to ask lots questions…and allow millions of people every day to listen along with her.

We can listen too much to external voices (news, other people), to the point that it becomes our only focus, and we can forget to care about how we feel. We can forget to nourish the self, and forget the importance of enjoying, mystery and wonder.

A thought came to me this evening while lying in bed. I felt concerned about my own questioning of whether there was still magic left in the world (and whether I should change my Facebook ‘religion status’, which since 2007 has said: “I believe in magic”). I have been tired lately, but a voice that seemed different from my questioning thoughts said, "There is plenty of magic in the world. The world is magic. None if it, however, is permanent."

So my focus lately has been on enjoying things even while aware of impermanence, even while knowing there is contrast in the world. Knowing that we – and our experience of the world – are always in motion.

We affect others with how we feel, because how we feel affects how we think and what we say and do… Our reality is a result of where our attentions are focused. 

We often focus on how others make us feel. Boundaries are a consistent challenge.

But boundaries can be a tool for allowing ourselves to enjoy moments more. We need them not only to protect our physical bodies at times, but also our emotional states – to listen to our inner voice. The better we feel the better those we engage with feel. Healthy boundaries for ourselves allows for self nourishment, and for others to have their own healthy boundaries.

After a wonderful conversation last Wednesday, including with the audience, the evening needed to wrap up. I ended the program with Diane Rehm by quoting her words from the 2007 AU Commencement speech:
“I believe each one of us can achieve progress, one relationship at a time, by quieting our inner voices of disagreement, of competitiveness, and attempts at one-upsmanship. We honor then, the voice of the speaker. The act of listening itself becomes an expression of generosity and compassion, which can lead to the creation of a new and more harmonious society. True listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which we open ourselves to the ideas of others…we invite strangers to become friends, and friends to become even better friends.”
Even if we do not listen as much, or to as many and varied others, as Diane, we can still be more aware that listening is respect.

I wish more and more often, that more and more of us, will be more and more respectful of one another; that we can receive respect, and know that our sense of sovereignty does not require us to always assert - to dominate or seek power over another. Our sovereignty is what allows us to listen to others, and to respect others.

We are allowed to experience enjoyment. (There is relief from FOEE.) And we can enjoy any and all good-feelingness without needing permanence.

Knowing that we are always creating with our thoughts and our words and our questions… Listening  creates more respect for own experiences, and for those of others.

I’ve been trying to listen better to my internal and external voices. My body seems to want a better balance of the two. Perhaps more enjoyment and less anxiety. It’s been telling me to take care of it, to rest more, observe more. Listening to my Self actually allows me to better listen to others. My mother often says “listen to your body…your body is wise, and it always wins if you ignore it”.

I have been listening to my mother more and more.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Journal ramblings from India to California

December 19, 2018


As the new ashram is being built around me, I feel both unworthy to be here at this time and yet completely at home. The guru relocated here after some issue with the land at the former location, which I’ve come to understand was in the city and much less secluded than where we are now. I’m not entirely sure what happened. But now, amidst monkeys, birds and cows, and as we practice and pray in new holy structures made of branches and stone, I grow.

Swami Krishnananda Yogashala, near Mysore, India (Dec. 2018)

December 20, 2018
 

There’s a sense of dust-covered royalness among us that I have not experienced since childhood. Wearing garments of various colors, many draped in blankets, we stood around the guru to receive instructions on kunjal, or the practice of induced vomiting from the imbibing of excessive and quickly swallowed water – in this case saline water. It is dark outside and pre-dawn, and the stars offered themselves as shining things to focus on in the moments between retches.

Following this, we did sutra nedi - meaning 'thread through the nose' - to clean the nasal passages (in our case a rubber catheter tube…more gentle) – pushed into each nostril and pulled out the mouth. We have been doing this for a few days. I followed this with jala nedi – the water method (nedi pot) more commonly used in the West – because I could not get the catheter tube through my left nasal passage this morning and I wanted both to be clear. Today is my birthday. I am cold, dirty, and tired.


April 22, 2019

Today is Earth Day. A day that Richard Nixon used to celebrate. I went to the local landfill this morning, about 30 minutes from my father's house - or former house...always his house - near Annapolis. I vaguely remember going there with him when my brother and I were kids and he had just moved to the area from Connecticut. 

Seeing it today was like seeing it through child's eyes. The Millersville Landfill is a surreal place, and beautifully managed. Refuse embedded in earth - garbage buried and grown upon, disposed of and recycled in their various facilities. 

I loaded my father's Ford pickup with as much as had sofar been determined trash and called about the ID check, and the Anne Arundel County resident requirement for dumping. The woman with a nice voice on the phone said to bring one of my father's utility bills and show his vehicle registration and it'd be fine even I had a DC driver's license. Cool.

Once I arrived at the gates, I was directed to drive straight down a what-quickly-became-a-gravel road to the far end of the campus...the general dumping area. I pulled in, and was told to back in towards the currently in-use and growing refuse mountain, unload and leave. 

I realized the road isn't paved past a certain point because where one is told to go 'dump' their trash changes as the trash mountains are ground up by big-wheel-grinding tractor/forklift type vehicles, and then buried under dirt and planted with - I assume from looking around at the surrounding hills, some bare, some wooded - grass first and then eventually trees. I also realized how much respect our waste management organizations and the guidelines and science they operate with are deserving of.

My father loved stuff like this.


December 20, 2019

I am in San Juan, Puerto Rico with my husband. Today is my birthday. We live in a time where we are not sure that we can be made whole. But it is the acceptance and forgiveness of our brokenness that brings thorough healing, as well as the awareness that we are never - and have never been - truly broken. We always have choice.
With recognition we step out of denial. Denial undermines our freedom.
- Jack Kornfield

December 25, 2019

In the woods of Connecticut with family. The trees moan and one can hear owls. Glad to be home for Christmas. 
The whole point of Jesus's life was not that we should become exactly like him, but that we should become ourselves in the same way he became himself. Jesus was not the great exception but the great example.
- Carl Jung

January 6, 2020

Watching the sun rise in Twenty Nine Pines, California this morning, my feet bare on the cold, rocky soil, I felt awe. I like awe.

"Sky Landing", Twentynine Pines, Mojave Desert, California (Jan. 2019)

Twenty Nine Pines is in the Mojave Desert and north-bordering of Joshua Tree National Park, where we will visit this morning before heading west again to Los Angeles. My sister's birthday this coming Friday will coincide with her and I being on her favorite podcast called "The Positive Head Podcast", as well as the web series "Optimystic", both hosted by Brandon Beachum and currently broadcasting out of a house called the Mystic Manor in Venice Beach, where we will be staying the week.

Strange delays between DC and San Diego meant that I missed the Abraham Hicks workshop (it would have been my first one) that I had booked for my sister and I. But she, having arrived on time and thus a day before me, was able to attend. She shared notes, pearls of wisdom and cosmic downloads during our northwest drive into the desert yesterday.

Going to Los Angeles will complete our triangle tour of California. Our three stops are almost equidistance. This is first my time visiting California.



Traveling this year - from India to Amsterdam, Alabama to California - has enhanced my sense of a strong sense of interconnectedness with things. This is not something I have always enjoyed. It has, since childhood, had the capacity to overwhelm. But, it is more and more and more perceptible - unignorable - in my cerebral awareness, my spiritual knowing, and my physical body. And, I think, it is becoming more and more manageable. I have decided to take a hiatus from alcohol for a year. There is a lot that needs doing.

Climbing at Joshua Tree National Park (Jan. 2019)

I find myself thinking a lot about Truth. The concept of it, the pursuit of it, the relaxation into it. I feel that we can never truly lie. Even if we say false words - our voices, our bodies and countless other forces of the universe conspire to push the truth into awareness, whether immediately or finally.

The world is a mess. It's hard to filter honesty from the internet or television or people. I feel that an occasional hiatus from any of these could do humanity good.

I feel that the anger about secretive, exclusionary orders, or the outdated design and destructive nature of our collective systems, is insufficient, and so is trifling jealousy or ignorant rage directed at decision-makers. We are not disempowered unless we separate ourselves from power. And this is not necessary to do, nor is it productive.

I hope we will alchemize our anger into the forming of a new order and designing of a new collective destiny, which has been done before and will be done again, and must be done now.
The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love, and intelligence has nothing to do with any other tradition. It happens completely on its own when a human being questions, wonders, listens and looks without getting stuck in fear. When self-concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open.
- Toni Parker

January 7, 2019

Venice Beach, Los Angeles:

There does not need to be any agreement on experience. We are entitled to our own. There needs not be any cohesion in processing, or responding to experience, as we are entitled to our own - and only our own. You do not owe any one misery. You are entitled to your good feeling. You are entitled to feeling good. In feeling good one serves a higher purpose. Feeling good is being good.

I used to believe in - or wish for - a point, or for some profundity in suffering...past sufferings, the idea of suffering, etc. I suppose it is because I wanted to feel certainty that those experiences were 'worth it'...so that I would not feel regret.

All experiences are correct. Truth is available for us to tune into, and we can feel it with more light, more lightness...we can be lighter in the way we perceive and receive and give. We do not have to withhold ourselves to be sovereign. We can be in truth and experience it with more enjoyment and light - we can be lighter. Truth does not need to be heavy or dark...even that which lowers our energies or triggers our rage can be felt in lighter and lighter ways.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Presence of Feeling

Sometimes we wake up with a song in our head. This morning, in Amsterdam, it was “This land is your land, this land is my land...”


Quite an ode to the USA while being in Holland, learning a new form of yoga, designed by a Brazilian man.


The second verse of the song, by Woody Guthrie, goes: 

“As I was walking,

I saw a sign there,

And on the sign it said,

‘No trespassing’,

But on the other side,

It didn’t say nothing...

That side was made for you and me.”


Many of the buildings here in the city of canals - and global center of commerce during the 17th century - lean slightly, in all different directions. Some sinking lower to one side or the other, leaning against their adjacent neighbor, others leaning forward or backward. Somehow, however, they stand stable. “Because they’re all together,” said Bonnie (the friend I am here with). That’s a metaphor if I ever heard one.


Bonnie is the reason behind us being here, and the one who introduced me to Kaiut Yoga, a specialized yoga we have been training in for the last week. My first time doing so - not hers. The opportunity to train directly under Francisco Kaiut, the technique’s founder, has been enlightening... It had not occurred to me until now - not really - just how crooked and tight so much of me was... And despite being physically and emotionally exhausted, we are not drained - so far enjoying Amsterdam between and after classes. Yes, we both need rest, but it’s an invigorated sort of tired. 


Today we both received certificates for the completion of a particular module. The next one will be taught near Sacramento in July. I am enrolling.  


Kaiut Yoga could be a metaphor for life. It is both complex and simple. It is an exploration of the self to find and clear blockages. 


In the body these are restrictions, or areas of heightened sensation (often called pain). By focusing on the body during certain poses and allowing tension release and restrictions to be ‘cleaned’ out, the mind learns to support the process and clears out storage of emotional or psychological tension as well. 


One often thinks of yoga practice as a way to increase flexibility, but presently yoga is often practiced in a way that causes rigidness, and even in ways that espouse restriction and exclusion rather than broadcasting welcomeness and unlimited potential. I don’t want to rant about this now, but suffice to say many techniques bring about injury - slowly or quickly - and ego-based practice does not offer much freedom to get to know thyself. 


Yoga should not allow you to hide from yourself; instead allowing you to know you...more and more and more. I think Francisco Kaiut has developed an approach that is true to the process of self-knowing. As he said to us the other day: “You cannot be smarter than you.” 


There are more than a few Americans that were part of this Amsterdam cohort. They join others from Holland and Europe, of course, as well as Brazil, where the technique was first developed. 


It feels interesting to be an American nowadays, more so than I remember it being in years past, and especially while off of American soil.


Since we’ve been here, the American president has visited the U.K. and France, and we - while avoiding broadcast news for the most part - heard whispers of a State Dinner with royals, awkward moments with British leaders, and speeches from heads of government, including ours, commemorating the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944, known as D-Day [the allied landing at Normandy that led to the liberation of Nazi-controlled France and eventually the Allied Powers’ victory ending World War II. Side note if-you didn’t-know-&-r-curious: “D-Day” refers to a military designation for a combat operation. ‘D’ for day and ‘H’ for hour are commonly used, and numbers typically follow the letters to indicate time before or after a specific operation: ‘D+2’ would mean two days after any given ‘D-Day’ and ‘H-5’ means five hours before.]


My father was a ‘third’, the namesake of my great-grandpa, because the family was proud of his service during WWII. I am still trying to think of a place for his official military portrait which my brother and I now have. 


War is of course complicated in its terminations and carryings-out. Decision-making before, during and in its aftermath is full of option-weighing of things certain and things - most things - uncertain. War feels wearisome...bad...for the good-hearted; intoxicating and mechanical for those who do not feel strongly. One prefers to keep the peace; the other is jaded by its inevitable end. 


Allies...alliances seem less complicated than war. Cohesion around peace and stability seems obvious in its good. If only for all, but certainly those adept in trusting their senses and judgement - adept in...knowing feeling. 


And alliances with those whom one shares values and culture with should be easy to maintain, as there is rational trust - especially from the American perspective - that no party will declare war on or try to invade the other. I guess I wish for the norms of diplomacy, the frivolous elegance, and the seemingly low instances of surprise amidst Western international relations after the Second World War.  


Last night I cried in bed. This yoga - with its focus on clearing restrictions in the body - can release things that have been deeply held in tissues for ages. More recently, I am still sad about my father’s death late last year. It has been a lesson for the animal self - that one must learn to live with, and appropriately nurse, wounds. But I also cried from having a sudden and seemingly random realization: that I have made others sad. Like a wave, I was overcome with flashed memories of instances and ways - grand and minuscule - that I’ve hurt people. Within one’s own body, hurting is more painful than being hurt. 


I wonder: if humanity’s attunement to feeling - not just emotional reactions, but physical, body-feeling and its ability to inform judgement, its  connection with a morality - becomes more and more heightened, will war even be possible? 


At the moment, anything seems possible. And that’s not necessarily a welcome feeling.


Just like, as Thomas Merton said, people immersed in sensual appetites and desires are not very well prepared to handle abstract ideas, nor are those who entirely ignore or cut themselves off from the body’s wisdom and its natural signals very well prepared to adapt. 


If one cannot adapt to environments and situations but instead requires environments and situations to adapt to them...well, one will always be disappointed. And those who cannot adapt to different environments find it harder to survive - not just major events, but even minor experiences, and therefore become more likely to ignore or hide from what is happening, both within themselves and outside themselves. And those who ignore what is happening within and outside themselves are not very well prepared to engage - or advocate for that matter - change. 


We need to ask ourselves: how does it feel to be divided? To be angry? To be scared? How does it feel to refuse - to literally be terrified and abhor the idea of - standing together? How does it feel to be embarrassed? To feel hatred and to not want to feel hatred at the same time? How does it feel to look at your neighbor? To talk to an acquaintance? A friend? To listen to your own thoughts? How does it feel in your body? 


This ongoing introduction to new yogic horizons has been intense, and being present in the world and in my self has meant that sometimes it is difficult to maintain good-feeling and upliftedness. 


In the last few months, I had decided I did not want the negativity of politics (which was my college major) or even ‘news’ in my reality. I didn’t want the energy of it, to interact with it, or to feel its effect on me. 


But there is strength in feeling. And one can feel truly, deeply, strongly - yet not be overwhelmed. There is a joy to be found in uncertainty, the exploration of self and society - a surrendering to discovery that comes with simultaneous relaxation and allowance of sensation. The process that leads us to adapt. And thus learn and grow and know what we want and where we stand. 


Exactly six months ago, I graduated (not sure of any other suitable word) from the Swami Krishnananda Yogashram outside Mysore, India. Today, I received my first certificate from Kaiut Yoga. 


The ashram experience was profound and transformative, of course, and very focused on discipline. But I went to India to escape myself after my father’s death. I learned there is no escape from the self - only getting to know it better and better and better, and with genuineness and no denial. That is the best way to face and heal injuries, to clear blockages and restrictions; to learn how to feel, and therefore be able to face the world from where I stand - with courage and clear understanding. 


“You cannot be smarter than you.”


Thanks for reading. Namaste. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Not being broken

The other day, my husband and I could not remember which level we parked on, and then Terry McAuliffe got on the office building elevator with us. I have encountered the former governor during different political incarnations of his, starting with an internship I had at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee while a freshman in college. At that time, he was the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and would come to meetings and events at our temporary office space near Capitol Hill (a new headquarters was under construction). He would meet with my then-boss Peter Waldheim, and speak alongside the late Congressman Robert Matsui (our DCCC boss at the time) and then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (our big boss at the time). I can feel my Republican family members cringing.

Serendipitously I showed the governor the book I was holding, which was an advanced copy written and gifted to me by Lester Hyman (out soon - title: JFK, The Kennedys and Me - I'll actually be hosting a book signing dinner for him at the Arts Club of Washington on March 22nd). I reminded Terry that the last time we had crossed paths was at a restaurant in Georgetown while Lester and I were lunching. Terry had walked in and we couldn't help notice his jubilant arrival and the conspicuous presence of gubernatorial security guards. It was 2016, the eve of one or more major primary elections between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Both Terry and Lester have known each other a long time, both were friends and backers of Hillary, and I remember this being discussed.

Seeing Terry made me remember interning for the DCCC, and that I was only weeks into recovery from a major surgery which to this day offers a lot of challenges. It was done the summer after graduating high school. The surgeon broke my upper pallet in several places, and then put it back together, securing it with actual screws. Afterwards, my upper and lower jaws were wired together, so that my mouth was fixed shut well into my first semester at American University.

This meant that for my internship, I had to apply, be interviewed, and begin without being able to speak. It also meant for an interesting way of starting college.

Terry no longer has the gubernatorial security, but he was as jovial as ever. Politics is tough. So is life. He might run for president. I like him and liked seeing him, but am currently an early supporter of Marianne Williamson's campaign.

I am now once again in recovery, this time from the unexpected passing of my father towards the end of last year. Today I woke up before dawn to drive to his house to meet the tow truck driver who would take his/my old mustang convertible out of his driveway. When it runs, it runs rickety, and my brother and I decided to donate it to Cars Helping Veterans.

It was the car that we (my father, brother and I) would drive down to Alabama in when we visited family each year, stopping at caverns and other sites along the way. It was the car I learned to drive in. My father would stop it on a hill, push in the parking brake, put the clutch in neutral and tell me to get behind the wheel, shift into first and drive forward without stalling out. It was a process, but I learned to drive. It then became mine for two years until I left for college, and returned it back to him, allowing for a healthy amount of hi jinx in the interim.

A month after receiving my license to drive legally, the Mustang (and teenage me) was in a major accident - which, according to Kelley's Bluebook, totaled the car. But we still had it fixed. My father didn't keep collision insurance coverage so that meant we had to fix it out of pocket. The passenger door never again closed completely, but it was forest green with a tan top and a gold racing stripe and I loved that car. It took 20 minutes of jumpstarting the battery this morning to be able to back it out of the driveway, and its engine belt howled until it was fixed to the tow truck and turned off.

I have found myself reflecting on the concept of brokenness.

My parents divorced when I was six, so the term might be applied - by some - to elements of my and my brother's childhood. My mother remarried a good and kind man and together they brought my sister into being, who I love and learn from. Every break allows for growth. Appreciating that dance seems correct.

Our politics is broken, but we now have an opportunity to begin transforming our nation in ways that are truly revolutionary, which I believe involves a spiritual awakening as much as a new social contract.

We all have traumas. As individuals, families, communities and societies. We can try and share them or explain them but ultimately they are not healed from doing this. They are never healed. They do however expand our consciousness, making room for more awareness, and they therefore pave the way to more love, more compassion, and more joy.

We can heal our Selves not by getting 'over' anything, but by growing through and beyond obstacles...by acknowledging realities - of Self, of politics, of nature - and letting awareness guide our choices.

Having just returned from India, where I did a monthlong yoga teacher training at a rural ashram outside the city of Mysore, and also having recently openly committed myself to a spiritual journey, I have been asked whether I feel transformed. Sure. Of course. I have found myself saying that I am 'still processing' the India experience. But in reality, we are always processing, and constantly transforming. This gives me inspiration and hope, because within this process, we can never be broken.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

An Ace at the Gate


After arriving at Bangalore Airport, I paced outside until I finally hopped into a cab and told the driver that I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, but I that I needed a hotel near the bus station. As it was already dark, I would head south to Mysuru in the morning. Per the emailed recommendations from the ashram, I would take the Skybus. My American sensibilities were suddenly rattled from the realization that not planning ahead spawns moments of uncertainty. The taxi driver seemed helpful, despite us only understanding perhaps half of what the other was saying at any given time. 

Until he told me he hadn’t slept in 2 days. 

“You need to take a break then, and rest.” 

“No break.”

Okay. 

We drove - or rather sat - through over an hour of traffic to get into the city, and once there it was clear he was trying to take me to a hotel owned or run by a friend of his. Or at least someone who gives ‘commision’. Understandable, but I was not yet willing to relinquish my Western mindset or middle class standards and I wanted a place with a private shower...and in a neighborhood amenable to sleep. I got the former. The first hotel he pulled up to was full. Glory be. The second one overcharged for what it was, but after 24 hours of transit, and my haggling inclinations never being particularly keen, I didn’t feel like talking with the manager any longer than required to receive a room key. 

The next morning I took a taxi the three hours south to Mysuru. It was fortunate because I was able to pick up a yoga mat (of all the things to forget) along the way. 

Here at the ashram we are amidst seven days of abolsute silence, imposed by the guru and started on December 31st. This is waived during lectures and classes so that we may ask questions, and during Kirtan - an evening ritual where we sing mantras and other songs together before bed. Someone sang Auld Lang Syne that last night of 2018. 

We are not technically supposed to leave the ashram, which is laid out on a number of hectares of vegetable fields, sprinkled and surrounded with tall coconut trees and brush. It is on the outskirts of a small, country village - itself on the outskirts of the city of Mysuru. It is composed of several concrete buildings that serve as male and female dorms, a kitchen hut, the main hall where we meditate and have class, and what looks to be the original farmhouse, now serving as the masters’ ‘dorm’. 

But with limited space, diverse personalities, egos and energies, all in different stages of spiritual awakening, one needs to take a walk occasionally. There is a shrine built around a large tree up the road, in the middle of a three-way intersection. It is the perfect place to walk to after First Meal (one of two vegan meals daily, plus fruit and herbal tea - no caffeine - in the morning and after lectures). The setting becomes more magical with each day. However even though an occasional walk off grounds may go intentionally unnoticed, it is important that we steer clear of the village. 

When we arrived two weeks ago, the ashram was still being built around us. They had moved from their former location in Mysuru (Mysore) just before this current session began, and the feeling is a special one - seeing something new literally rise from the earth, with the purpose of teaching something ancient. 

The villagers are mostly very friendly and smile when you see them on the road or on the ashram grounds, as they come in to farm or do other things. But they have specific ways of doing things within their community, and disruption to that can cause problems. Westerners with good intentions can be blamed for anything that might go awry weeks or months after they’ve left. Not to mention the propensity for unintentional cultural insensitivity. So we were told - rightly - to stay out, especially since the village leadership has significant sway over the ashram’s land lease. 

We all have our daily Karma Yoga here, which is our assigned chore. I clean the toilets and showers in our dormitory. Admittedly, when our Karmas were announced at orientation, bewilderment was followed by hope that this was a rotating assignment...before I gulped acceptance. 

“Do you like cleaning toilets?” my co-Karma’d newfriend Cicero half-jokingly asked me the first day we were in the bathroom together, brushing porcelain holes in the ground with blue cleaner. (These are the original Squatty Potties.) “It’s not my favorite thing,” I replied. “Well, I like it,” he said. When I looked at him quizzically, he added, “I like when toilets are clean, don’t you?” Wow. Fair enough. 

With new perspectives come new questions. When we discipline the mind not to seek every answer, but to await them, we evolve. Of course some questions are worth seeking answers for. But the concept of Self-exploration and internal work has never been so clear as it has become here, as well as the fact that the first requisite for any change to occur is the desire for it. 

“Wake up! It’s a brand new dayyyy!” plays abruptly from across the open-aired dormitory at 4:30 every morning because it is the smartphone alarm of the toughguy Yogi who is both our asana demonstrator and ‘Resident Director’. The singsongy tune makes me laugh despite my tiredness. 

Washing our food trays, utensils and cups after every meal inspires trust among the group: trust that you wash diligently after your use to ensure the clean and pleasant future use by an other; and that an other has washed sufficiently before your own next use. 

The guru is a long-practicing medical doctor (whose 3D computer internal body images enhance lectures on  anatomy and movement, if not also induce occasional squirms), Yoga PhD, and the disciple of Swami Krishnananda Saraswati, who was a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati (those unfamiliar can Google both). The asana teacher is a national and international gold metal-earning former competitor, and Hatha Yoga teacher for over ten years. As we strengthen our bodies and minds, tune our wills, address our fears and deepen our knowledge reservoir, we are in good hands for an integrated, Integral Yoga education here, and I am thankful for that. 

Oh, and the name of this blog post? The day after Christmas, I needed a sign from the universe, although I didn’t know it. My emotions and ego were driving the chariot of the Self and I needed to retake the reigns. The day after my birthday was the winter solstice as usual, as well as one month’s time since my father’s sudden departure from his earthly body the night before Thanksgiving. The next day was a full moon, the first since he died. Christmas Eve and Day had come and gone with little fanfare here, which was perfect. But I was unconsciously waiting for something while walking down the dirt driveway toward the ashram gates. 

My father liked playing cards. All the card games I know he taught me - including Solitaire. All the card tricks that I know he taught me. We used to play together with his siblings-my uncles and aunts, their kids-my cousins, and his mother-my grandmother while at the family ranch down in Alabama every year. It was often a good prescription after swimming in the lake or four-wheeling all day. He would give my brother and I a new deck of cards in our Christmas stockings every year. 

As I approached the gate, slowing to decide whether to pass through onto the road for a short walk, something caught my eye. 

An ace of diamonds on the ground. 

As I passed beyond the gate, I saw that there were different playing cards all along the road - a queen of diamonds, two of clubs, jack of hearts, eight of hearts, king of spades...as if someone had strewn a deck along the road outside the ashram. I heard a pair of other straggling students say in English (the common language of everyone here) to each other as they passed me on their covert reentry: “Weird how there are playing cards all over the place.” 

In the game of life there are many cards to play. Some are given, some are found, and all the plays are our choices made. 

As it happens, today is my little (now taller) brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, Little Bro. In this life, I’ll always have a higher number of years.