I officially enter Yoga Cronedom next weekend. This Ageless Hippie Chick — who was not supposed to see the age of 17 because I tried to kill myself when I was 16 — hits the big 6-0. What a long, strange trip it’s been, and I’m not even talking about the yoga. I am grateful for every damn thing that has come my way, good and bad.
When I saw this Anne Lamott quote on someone’s Facebook page, it resonated with me. Apparently everyone has read Anne Lamott except me so I looked her up. The blurb on her agent’s page says that “she writes about what most of us don’t like to think about” and that she “tells her stories with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice.” I thought, hmmmm…interesting, people used to say that about me and my yoga rants and musings, I should check her out.
So I decided to take some of her lines and do my own spin on my upcoming birthday.
AL: “This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life. However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32…. My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine. My feet, however, frequently hurt.”
Next weekend is the last weekend of my fifties. I also do not look or feel 60 and I certainly don’t move like I am 60. What is that supposed to look like anymore? When I grew up in the ’60s when people hit 60 they looked damn old. Most people don’t know I smoked for 30 years, less than a pack a day, and I gave it up just like that when I became a yoga teacher at 48. When I was in my early 20s I weighed 200 pounds, another thing that no one believes. I lost about 60 pounds when I was in my early 20s but I still see a 200 pound face in the mirror. You want to talk about Yoga and Body Image? Just ask me.
I also have a near-perfect life considering some of the things I’ve experienced: child abuse, domestic violence, attempted suicide, sexual assault, a lot of drugs and rock n roll as they say (don’t you wonder who the hell “they” are?)
Like Lamott, my heart is not any age. Oh yeah, it will stop pumping one of these days. But I am an energy body and energy is neither created nor destroyed, I will morph into something else somewhere. And it’s not my feet, but damn, I have a tweaky back sometimes.
AL: “My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness and self-care.”
My greatest blessing is surviving and radical self-care. The older I get, the more powerful I become. I have not even begun to reach my full potential. When a lot of people my age are thinking about retirement, I feel like I am just getting started….funny, when I’ve been teaching for a dozen years now.
I always tell my students, “ask yourselves, if not now, when?” But I’ve known too many women who put themselves last after everything else in their lives, behind husband, partner, children, even in this time of post-Women’s Liberation Movement.
AL: “I’m pretty spaced out.”
Over the years I’ve noticed many times how still my mind is, like a still pond. Many people tell me their minds are rarely quiet in spite of being long time yoga practitioners and practicing meditation. I catch myself on how often I am not thinking but standing in pure awareness, at least that is what I call it. Maybe it is my mind observing itself and it sees emptiness, a clarity, and then when it notices the emptiness it yells “hey, where are the thoughts?!” and that’s when I get distracted.
“The tranquil state of mind when it rests constantly upon the contemplation of the goal after having again and again detached itself from myriad sense objects through a process of continuous observation of their defects, is called Sama.” Vivekachudamani, Adi Shankara, 8th century.
AL: “Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now. Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable. …Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.”
During my last yoga therapy training we discussed the concept of equanimity. Many believe that when we finally reach the ultimate state of equanimity we become like Ramana Maharshi where we can sit in meditation and allow the ants to bite us without reaction. I thought about that after our discussion and thought that if I can not feel passion about something or experience compassionate rage then you can keep enlightenment.
AL: “Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato. This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe.”
I learned a long time ago that forgiveness is for me not for the one who treated me badly. Forgiveness is to relieve my own suffering.
In the last 6 months I received confirmation via three DNA tests that I am Native American with Spanish and Southeastern European thrown in. I grew up believing I was 50/50 German and Polish. Surprise! Not a drop of German and the Polish is iffy. That is what I was always told. My life was based on lies and deceptions. Imagine finding that out when you are thisclose to 60.
Anyone who can tell me the truth of my birth is dead. I came up with three possible scenarios: I was the product of an affair; my sister (who was 19 years older than me) was my mother because she got pregnant with me before she married when I was four and had given me to the people I thought were my parents but were really my grandparents; or, someone gave me away to the people who raised me because in the mid-1950s my parents would have been considered too old (41 and 48) for an official adoption.
I had always intuited that I was something other than what I grew up believing. A friend who also found out she is Native said that Native Americans have blood memory of their heritage — so that’s what that feeling was all these years.
Do you want to talk to me about forgiveness? When I found out I am Native, I was ecstatic because I have always felt a kinship with anything Native American even as a young girl. Then I sank into a morass of despair — it explained why I was treated the way I was until I moved out when I was 18. It explained why my sister wanted nothing to do with me and rarely had any contact with me. Then I became enraged at the lies and deceptions. I created scenes in my mind that if I could go back in time to confront the liars and abusers I would destroy them. But then I said….
What difference does it make now, in this present moment? Why should I create my own suffering over something that happened 60 years ago? My life is NOW. Not in the past, not in the future. Just this, just here, just now.
I saw my astrologer yesterday and told her the story. I asked, what if my birthday is not what is on my birth certificate since it was obviously altered. No problem, I have the same akashic records of my birth that makes me ME. The akasha is beyond any date on a calendar.
Then I began to think how truly lucky I am. Because I have the power to create a new Me, at age 60 I shed my past like a snakeskin. I am a blank slate and how many people can say that at my age? Because my early life was not about integrity, I can now claim the integrity of my New Consciousness. I separate myself from the betrayals that went before. Maybe that is why people have branded me “fiercely authentic” and why my astrologer always told me I can not be anywhere near any thing or person is that is less than true.
AL: “So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today. I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light! Wow. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I have experienced things in 60 years that would have made a weaker person crazy or dead.
I facilitate personal transformations via Yoga and meditation. I teach people how to breathe to save their lives. I help them regain mobility or peace of mind. I will never own a studio and I will never again teach to a large group of people unless someone invites me. I do not see that happening in the foreseeable future because what I do and how I am is not everyone’s cup of chai. I am too masala for many. I am not the modern yoga status quo and I am happy now to stay in my little yoga cave. But I am honored and humbled to be in a book with some famous yoga teachers….and then there’s me.
I do what I can every day to live the idea of “I will not die an unlived life.” Or sometimes I do nothing at all. I have always said that life is a vinyasa.
I celebrate ME, my surviving, my ups and down of my entire life thus far because every day is a blessing. I have become so detached from the identity of “yoga teacher” that sometimes it frightens me. That’s because true freedom can be frightening. Think about that one. If I never taught another class I would be happy.
Because I am so much more. I am everything that is contained in this Universe, good, bad, and indifferent. I caught a glimpse of that as I did energy work on a student this week. The Native American shaman that is buried in my DNA is raising her head. At the risk of sounding foo-foo and woo-woo, those things that I disdain in the New Age scene, we are stardust.
And I thank the Universe that I am capable of such Joy.