Tag Archives: impermanence

baby steps

writing

I hope that everyone who told me since I started this blog in 2005 that I should write a book will buy it when it comes out.  Y’all, put your money where your mouths are!

OK, it’s not published yet but I am taking baby steps.

I wish I had a $1 for every email I received over the last 13 years from every person who told me I inspired them.  Or helped them get back on track with Yoga.  Or told me my “fierce voice” was needed in the world.  Or told me that they went to India to study Yoga because of this blog.

Or who emailed me just to say THANK YOU for my emotional labor.

Forty-five years ago my creative writing professor told me that I oughta write and if I don’t oughta get kicked, hard and swift. Mr. Brooks, I’m finally listening to you.

I’m also listening to those people from places far and wide who told me that I have a fierce voice that the world needs to hear, that there are people who need my insight and wisdom.  They had more faith in me than I ever had in myself.

My writing was always stream of consciousness.  I wrote in spurts.  So I will take baby steps: I joined an online writers’ group that concentrates on writing memoirs.  I am hoping it gives me focus and helps me discipline myself.

I’ve always written SOMETHING, way before I started this blog.  I was an English major in college and made it half way through a Masters.  I wrote poetry in high school and was named one of Illinois’ “best high school poets.”  I also won a few writing awards in college.  Back in the day I wanted to teach English in a junior college but life got in the way.

In the past year I have felt a change coming up, a life turn, so to speak, where I must do something different.  I have not done a yoga training since 2015 because I don’t see the point anymore what with the Modern Yoga Scene.  I’ve taught in India and Africa but does anyone invite me to teach anywhere anymore?  Not for many years.

I became a Certified Yoga Therapist (IAYT) only because someone might find the piece of paper important if I shop myself around, not that I thought it actually meant anything.  Only to people who are impressed with pieces of paper because no one gives a shit I studied for 10 years at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.

I thought about going back to school for a Masters in mental health counseling because I figure I’ve been doing that for 17 years of  yoga teaching anyway.  I hate to say that age has anything to do with going back to school, but for this subject, yes.  I’d be too old once I graduated, had to intern, etc.  Ageism is real and I’m not stupid.

But writing….the Universe was telling me something again.

My writer friend, a pissed-off yogini, asked me for some advice.  After I gave her my two rupees she had a few things to say:

“The writer in me wants to request that you write a book on these topics.  Right now we are flooded with spiritual books, practices & such. But very few really nourish.  It’s like eating donuts with pink frosting.  I truly value your journey in this lifetime & your insight. Your insight sparks — it really does. It cuts thru the bullshit. Goddess, it’s such a necessary voice.”

She suggested a memoir.  Hmmmmm…..

  • I have my Yoga journey — DUH, go back to my very first post here.
  • I have my upbringing — abuse and finally finding out my true roots, my real ethnicity.
  • My teenage and college years — running away, drugs, sexual assault, domestic violence, surviving what would have killed others.
  • I have my 13 years of India travel.
  • I have my gardens that I can use as a metaphor for growth and life cycles.

garden 2

garden 3

We shall see.

Get your popcorn.

And hold my beer.

Who are YOU?

original upload by Life Essentials Institute http://lifeessentialsinstitute.com/
original upload by Life Essentials Institute http://lifeessentialsinstitute.com/

“When we cling to an identity, we create rigidity within ourselves that limits our ability to engage spontaneously with the world. We become bonded to images of ourselves that have grown out of this rigidity, and anything that threatens these images has the potential to collapse our sense of self. We fear a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity keeps us trapped in old patterns and causes needless pain and suffering.”  (Life Essentials Institute)

I’ve been dealing with a shit load of pain and suffering since June 1.

I have a mid-shaft spiral fracture of the 5th metatarsal of my left foot.  I broke my foot dancing, barefoot, something that I love more than Yoga.  For two weeks I was in a cast and was told to absolutely not put any weight on my foot and therefore was given crutches.  Practicing trying to go up and down the bottom step of a staircase, the tip of my crutch stayed in one place and I kept going.  Putting my hand out to save my foot I broke my left radius two weeks after breaking my foot.  After x rays I was told if you’re going to break a wrist, mine was the “perfect fracture” to have — nothing displaced, my metacarpals still sitting perfectly atop my radius and ulna at 12 degrees.

A few days after the wrist I received a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon on my foot.  The second opinion was on foot surgery that supposedly was the “only thing” that would fix my broken bone according to the first doctor, a podiatrist.  Take it from me, NEVER go to a podiatrist for anything other than cutting your toenails and even then I would think about it.  At the time I had no other choice but to go to this foot doctor.

After laughing at my cast the ortho surgeon told me he NEVER casts or does surgery on a break like mine.  He told his assistant to remove my cast.  Like yesterday.  I now wear an air boot and can walk, besides having the brace on my wrist.

The thing is, had I not had the cast I would not have had the crutches and therefore would not have fallen off my step and broke my wrist.  Unfortunately, according to an attorney, my broken wrist is not large enough money- and aggravation-wise to warrant a lawsuit against the podiatrist for professional negligence.

Life changes in a second.

I have no income this summer because I can not teach.  But I have lots of time to think and what I began thinking about — after the first 10 days of anxiety attacks which I never experienced before in my life coupled with deep depression — was identity.

So much came up during the first two weeks of basically being bed ridden with a cast because I was warned off walking (although I used a knee walker to get around): teaching yoga, cancelling my classes for the summer, having to cancel a weekend teacher training I was going to give, possibly cancelling my trip to India at the end of August (which is more than a personal trip, it is a tour I am being paid to do), how my body has changed, how soon can I get back to MY NORMAL LIFE.

Of course I know that a broken foot and wrist are nothing in the grand scheme of things because I…

did not lose a limb
did not suffer traumatic brain injury
did not become paralyzed
was not diagnosed with cancer or another catastrophic disease
am not going blind
and no one died.

But it still changed my life.

For moi, a very active woman of a certain age, to come to such a screeching halt, is a mind-fuck.

I thought:
WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING AND WHO THE HELL AM I?

It dawned on me:
I am not a yoga teacher, it is only what I do.

Even with all my training in India, the thousands of hours I’ve put in, If I stopped completely, never taught again, how important is all that, really?  As Grace Slick used to sing, it doesn’t mean shit to a tree.  Life goes on and people move on.

No standing asana but sitting and supine and lots of pranayama and meditation.  And that got me thinking as it did here 7 years ago:

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

I thought about all the yoga selfies out there — handstands, sick arm balances, crazy back bends, acro yoga, poses on top of a cliff during a sunrise or sunset, always looking for the newest Yoga Thing.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if I ever do another headstand or chatarunga again.  

Yeah, I said that.

How does modern American yoga become someone’s identity?

Because one day you won’t be able to accomplish a handstand, an arm balance, a pretzel back bend, or maybe might not be able to walk outside to pose on a clifftop.  You might not be able to even see a sunset or sunrise.  Old eyes get glaucoma.

Writer and long time yoga teacher Charlotte Bell commented on this blog’s Facebook page: “Yoga was never intended to keep you from aging, getting sick or injured, or dying. Aging is not a mistake. It is written into our DNA. Anyone who thinks yoga will keep them from aging is in for a big disappointment. What yoga can do is to help us navigate reality with love and grace.”

Love and Grace.  I learned long ago that I can only get that from me not from any outside source.  So why am I freaking out about my so-called NORMAL LIFE being ripped away from me?  That’s why the words in the first quote hit me in the gut (to paraphrase):

became bonded to the image of myself as a dancer/yoga teacher/yoga student.  My broken bones threatened those images and collapsed my sense of self.  I feared a loss of face, a loss of self, a loss of identity. Clinging to a set identity kept me trapped in an old pattern and caused needless pain and suffering.

WHO ARE YOU?  REALLY?

not a yogi

Whether you are a teacher, massage therapist, healer, paralegal, lawyer, business owner, whatever it is that you DO…

if you could not do THAT anymore, WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?  You can always change that identity of what you do like you can change one blanket for another.  But when you are laid bare, WHO ARE YOU?

The best thing I can do for myself right now is to take care of ME.  To NOT worry about my classes or about whether my students will return after such a long hiatus or about teaching ever again.  All that is not worth it because I AM WORTH SO MUCH MORE THAN ANY OF THAT.  

Earlier this year a wise woman told me that 2015 will be the YEAR OF ME, that my word for 2015 is DONE, that I have put myself out there for so long for other people via learning and teaching, that now it’s my turn.  I finally get it.

And whatever you do, PLEASE don’t tell me ALL THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON, that I broke my bones because it’s a “training.”  Bullshit.  

Because sometimes shit just happens.

what is your yoga truth?

Hanumanasana is Overrated

“From a standpoint where the purpose of Hatha yoga is to facilitate and maintain a healthy functioning body, there is no reason why a person would ever need to be able to do Hanumanasana. However unattached we may be in working towards it, the goal belies our better purpose.

Touting images of flashy classical asana demonstrations as examples of “mastery” has led to a gross exaggeration of physical practice, beyond the point of practicality, and has fueled a physical fitness industry that is more concerned with aesthetics than health. I realize that I may be taking a hard view of things but seeing past the cultural sensationalizing of just about everything can be a daunting task given the deeply ingrained mores stacked against it. Some amount of push back seems necessary.”

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher — and as quoted by Paul Grilley about certain “truths” of modern-day yoga.

His philosophy controversial, Schopenhauer “claimed that the world is fundamentally what we recognize in ourselves as our will.  His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled.  Consequently, he eloquently described a lifestyle of negating desires, similar to the ascetic teachings of Vedanta, Buddhism, Taoism and the Church Fathers of early Christianity.” (from Wikipedia.)

Why do we engage in certain practices at a certain time, why do we think they were important at the time? When do we begin to move beyond our conditioning and attachments? What is the impetus that throws us headlong into a different direction when we thought for so long that we were always headed in the right direction?

Has your yoga truth changed since you started your practice?

Rod Stryker: “YOGA IS A QUEST FOR THE TRUTH”

life is a vinyasa

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

The forever changing images that I see in the mirror each morning remind me of the first of Buddha’s Five Remembrances. Today this soul’s present incarnation has been on this planet for over 50 years.

My photographs are also constant reminders of my mortality. Every birthday reminds me that I now have less time ahead of me than I have behind me. That knowledge makes each day more precious than the last. I will not die an unlived life.

“eat mangoes naked
lick the juice off your arms
discover your own goodness
smile when you feel like it
be delicious
be rare eccentric original
smile when you feel like it
paint your soul”
—SARK

What happened to the 16 year old? What happened to the 20 year old? They are still here but the package has changed, the ribbons are torn and frayed and the wrapping paper yellowed and weakened in spots.

I see these old photos and am reminded that I almost died at my own hand when I was 16. I never thought I would live to be at the party where my friend grabbed me with gusto around the waist. I could have left this earth a long time ago in more ways than one. I tried my damnedest for years to do just that. But I am still here, those girls are still around somewhere inside my head.

Those photos are also a reminder of the me I lost but found again once I got back on the yoga path. Life is a circle.


“The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.”

The photos bring home the truth of the Five Remembrances and the truth of impermanence and they remind me to THINK. Birthdays are contemplations on what I would like to plant in this final season of my life.

What will it be?

What do I plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

Every day I wake up with pain. My freaky femurs that Paul Grilley uses as examples of extreme internal hip rotation are beginning to ache. My hair is thinning and I can see my scalp. My eyes have the beginnings of cataracts. But I thank the Universe for my physical yoga practice because without it I probably could barely move.

I thank the Universe for my yoga and meditation practice that allows me to know the truth of Buddha’s Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the dharma, of the true nature of reality that nothing is permanent, that each moment is constantly changing. Asana practice offers a great window into impermanence because our practice changes every time we step on the mat, from day to day, moment to moment. Is your practice changing as you change? And if not, why not? Get real.

3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

These remembrances are the hardest lessons to learn. Thoughts of death of those near and dear to us and of our own death strike the most fear in our hearts. It is said that our only fear is the fear of death, all our other fears arise from that primal one.

We know things change but we put so much effort and energy into trying to live life as if that were not so. This is what Patanjali wrote about in chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutra-s: he described the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively and gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention, one of the qualities being avidya which is literally “not seeing.” This willful denial of reality, this willful not seeing the truth of impermanence perpetuates our suffering and misery. We so want things to never change – our hair, our skin, our supple spines, the people in our lives – that clinging to things that are by their very nature impermanent causes our suffering.

The suffering of change is what gives us the most gut wrenching pain in our lives. It is not our physical pain, but the pain of pain.

But when this truth of reality sunk deep into my bones it was liberation. I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness, I am only responsible for my own. No one is responsible for my happiness, I am only responsible for my own.

It’s a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We are energy bodies, filled with chi, prana, Life Force, whatever you want to call it. This body is merely the vessel that will eventually crack open and fall apart like an old terracotta pot. But the essence of me will live on. What is born dies but what is never born can never die. We truly are billion year old carbon.

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Like everyone else, my life is composed of losses and gains. My losses have been due to neglect, poor judgment, ego, recklessness, selfishness. My gains have been through hard work, grit, determination, and intuition. Other gains have simply come through the blessings of the Universe. Karma. I’ve been graced with a fortunate birth despite going through things back in the day that would have killed a weaker person. I should never have become this old. The cards were stacked against me. Or were they? I truly am a survivor.

The Five Remembrances keep me awake to the human condition. My spirituality has brought me closer to Spirit, have helped open a heart that was closed for so long, and has taught me to have gratitude for whatever comes my way. My dharma wheel is turning and it tells me to embrace the inevitability of life’s changes.

Life is a constant series of movements that change from one form to another — just like asanas. I have reached a deep sentient awareness that nothing is truly lost in the end. We meet who we are meant to meet in this life and people come and go and return again in a constant dance and flow — like a vinyasa. We meet ourselves and each other over and over again in this spanda until we find our way home.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

impermanence

Finally, I got it: a heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.
–Stephen Cope

I had the great fortune of spending 10 days with Stephen Cope at my training retreat at Spirit Rock in 2007. I think he’s brilliant.

And this is a quote that rings so true for me.

addthis_pub = ‘yogagal60510’;

why?

While working with a private student this morning I asked:

why is it that people are so attached to things they CAN NOT change and don’t do anything about (or are so detached from) the things that they CAN change?

How does that view of reality get so turned around in people’s heads?

You can’t change the bad weather, you can’t change being stuck in traffic, you can’t change a slow line at the airport, you can’t change the way your mother or father treated you in your childhood. so why are you intimately attached to your own suffering? maybe because your suffering gives you your identity?

do you experience sadness or are you a sad person? do you experience anger or are you an angry person? hugely different scenarios.

However, you can change the way you look at things: you can cultivate more patience, you can become less judgmental, you can become more compassionate (always first towards yourself), you can slow down, you can stop multi-tasking. so why do you have aversion to changing your conditioning? maybe because if you changed your conditioning you would not be “you”?

oh those pesky samskaras! who would we be without them?

It dawned on me that this is the cause of so much suffering.

I am not going to write a long esoteric post of what the Buddha taught, but some of the things he taught were about the impermanence of all things, about seeing the true nature of reality, about attachment and aversion.

People cling to the mindset of “that’s the way I’ve always been” or “that’s the way we’ve always done things” when they are talking about their lives in the HERE AND NOW. Because X happened 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, that is why they are like this now. We are “survivors” of this and “victims” of that. that has nothing to do with NOW.

I always use the example of concentration camp survivors when I talk to students about changing their way of looking at things….

two men survive Auschwitz. they both lost their entire families. they are all alone. they both suffered through the cold, the lice, the dysentery, the starvation, through the same horrors. but when they are liberated, what makes one a Nazi hunter and what makes the other a hungry ghost shackled to the past? are they both survivors or are they both victims?

I am reading Bringing Yoga to Life by Donna Farhi. this is one of the best yoga books I have encountered and it will definitely be on the students’ required reading list when I start my own teacher training program. it is not a book on asana practice, it is so much more…just like yoga.

In the chapter “A Box of Monsters”, Farhi writes that separating our true Self from our box of monsters is no easy task, and she cites the advice of the great Hindu sage, Ramana Maharshi. She says that Maharshi used an analogy repeatedly with his students to help them understand the layers of their experience:

“It is like a cinema. The screen is always there but several types of pictures appear on the screen and then disappear. Nothing sticks to the screen; it remains the screen. Similarly, you remain your own Self in all the three states [wakefulness, dream, deep sleep]. If you know that, the three states will not trouble you, just as the pictures which appear on the screen do not stick to it. On the screen you sometimes see a huge ocean with endless waves; that disappears. Another time you see fire spreading all around; that too disappears. The screen is there on both occasions. Did the screen get wet with the water or did it get burned by the fire? Nothing affected the screen. In the same way, the things that happen during the wakeful, dream, and sleep states do not affect you at all; you remain your own Self.”

Maharshi’s basic question was: are you the screen or are you the projection?

Farhi says that if you think the projection and the screen are the same, then it is like thinking that every time a horror show is on television, you’re going to have to fix the TV.

Yes, as feeling human beings we are affected by the horrors we endure, but that is not our endgame because we are so much more. Some may call me a survivor, a statistic, but I am so much more. we have a body, but we are more than our bodies. we are more than our box of monsters. what remains after our own horror show remains undamaged.

As a wise-ass Buddhist once said, life is suffering, life sucks, but pain is optional.
the choice is yours.

Impermanent are all compounded things.
When one perceives this with true insight,
then one becomes detached from suffering;
this is the path of purification.

Dhammapada 20.277

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