I find myself on the matt, rushed from traffic, breathless from worry. The room dims, the instructor’s voice soothes the atoms in the air. We breathe.
The class begins and we stretch, bending over yesterday’s beers and middle-age. We look up, grasping at the sky energy. We stand tall, then lean low, we breathe heavily.
I stoop in to child’s pose, catching my breath and my resting my body. The instructor, calm energy, strong voice, tells the class to rest. “If you’ve lost control of your breathing or your heart, take a minute…”
I’m fading in to my own thoughts at these words. “Lost control of your heart…” The words bounce around the vastness of my mind: a void of sorrow and contemplation. A light, dim at first, starts to shine the very edges of my thoughts. It is not just light, it is the sun. Hope washes over the cobwebs of winter, of poor choices, of indecision. Memories of a being a child, hopeful and independent, of a girl in Germany, of a strong spirit rush back in the void’s space. Suddenly I am strong for the first time in months.
I sit now in a hippie coffee shop. It’s the kind of coffee shop you’d go to after having an epiphany at yoga. I sit across a college girl with her hair in a woolen cap. A grandmother sits near us sipping her latte and writing on twitter. The walls are adorned with swirls of abstract art, most likely a result of a night of cocaine and vodka. I’m high just staring at them.
This space, the hippie place, the women on their laptops, the older gentlemen who just hugged a hello near the cash register: this is a place as familiar as years. I do not know a single person I’ve talked to today but we share this space, this energy, and a collective memory.
I’m heading to Nuremberg again on Saturday. This may very well be the single biggest goal I’ve had since I turned seven: Living in Germany. I will be there for a few weeks at this time with an apartment and a car. I will live like a local without knowing the language. I will walk to work, greet my co-workers with “Guten Morgan” and I will find my way through the market to purchase cheese and meat and wine. I will be alone.
I was recently told by someone close to me that independence is often misunderstood loneliness. Perhaps this is true. Today I find myself alone in a crowd of strangers, all of us breathing together or working together or sharing the mind-numbing art. I understand their language. It is familiar. It is comforting.
Without that comfort I will be isolated. But there are some dreams that make no sense, aside from longevity and a child’s idealistic mind. I go and show my own children how to capture life. They plan Skype chats, videos, and a possible trip to come see my apartment in Germany as well. My children will experience a world I coveted. They will walk to the market with me and pick out the meats and cheese and we will listen on the playground as German children run past my American youngin’s. I couldn’t be more excited, more petrified, more grateful. In this way I have lost control of my heart. The emotions that ruled the past half year or more come to a climax: Life, isn’t it funny? Because if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
Events, months, season, holidays, years. Each one sliding by less influential each time.
The daylight ends so early now. Darkness chills the children as they walk off school busses.
Commuters rush in drizzle rain to the warmth and glow of home.
There is a place I dislike to go. My mind swirls with lonely thoughts. If I chat loud enough, I do not hear her.
I try to not hear winter breathing down my neck.
A year? Two? More? How long has this winter lasted? Why is she here again, so soon?
My children delight in the dark. “It’s almost Christmas! Mom, look!” breathless they point at the houses already lit with twinkle lights. I smile, aching for their joy. I hold them close, hoping by some tactile osmosis, their enthusiasm for life will soak in to my bones. I cling to them almost with unhealthy gulps. The very people who used to cause me such anguish, such uncertainty, are the very ones who seem to be saving me of myself. I curl up with them in their beds, listening to their breathing. I watch as they relax in to calm. I wonder if I will ever find that space again; the peace, warmth and hope that comes with innocence.
I reach out for familiarity. I find songs, blips of light from favorite scenes in movies, quotes in books. I revel in the colorful paintings my children proudly display for me. I work diligently to find the Happiness. And yet, here, in this space, the darkness is heavier than I expect. I try, I try, I try. And yet…
The alarm went off at 7AM for the first day of fifth grade. My dad was in his suit walking out the door as he heard me grumble and get up. “Life sucks and then you die,” he greeted me.
This is the first of a thousand similar morning greetings he would say as he suited up and walked out the door to work.
I always thought this was just my Dad’s “thang.” Like he loved the Aggie’s football or playing war games on the computer. I thought it was sort of just something he muttered like when he sneezed “Jesus Christ on a commode.” It was one of his quirks, those parts of Dad that made him… well, Dad.
Years and years later, at thirty-five, I sit talking across an impossible valley. As it turns out, my dad is not the only one to say this as he went to work each morning. In fact, it’s something many dads said as they embarked on their early morning trek. It was not just dads in suits, or dads at mills, or dads with fancy cars or frequent flyer miles. It’s an attitude of a generation. The norm for our children’s grandparents is a rut-filled expectation of misery and eventually death. Our children’s parents, now in their mid-thirties or early forties, are just now rebelling against mid-life. We are just coming in to our own careers and now, as we walk out the door in the early morning dawn, we are asking why. WHY do we have to live our father’s mantra “life sucks and then you die.”
It is a rare prophet who challenges and pushes for change.
In Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford, a speech filled with not just inspiration but several challenges, he urges the students to Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. He shares, through his own experiences, the seemingly erratic life experiences that culminated in a respected, and revered, life of amazing.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Do not live our parent’s dogma. As Steve Job’s says, “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Life can suck and then you will die. Or life can be an amazing road, bumpy, rocky, long and winding. Death can loom like an escape, some future release. Or it can speak urgently to you: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.
I’m beginning to believe the words myself. I hope you will join me.
“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea”. ~Isak Dinesen
The first time I went in a boat, a canoe, I cried. The little boat would rock too much. I was too young. The water was too wet. I didn’t want to fall in.
The second time I went in a boat, a sweep, I wept with pain. My teammates and I pulled and pushed and pulled and pushed as our coxswain yelled the tempo. It was an ugly love, but I found it there on Lake Samish in Bellingham.
The third time I went in a boat, a kayak, I found joy. Pure solitude, soft gentle rocking, swaying of heart and soul. I may have been on something, but I swear dolphins swam with us and sea otters bobbed their heads to greet us. Birds sang specifically to us and little animated hearts floated out of my head like a cartoon.
A girl and her boat: Oh, to be one with the water.
Where I was meant to be.
**Photos by me.
As the closing song fills the screen of “180 Degrees South,” several quotes come to mind. I grab my old book, “Buddhism Plain and Simple.” As most of my other inspiring books, it too, has passages underlined with notes in the margins. I find the few I am looking for.
From the film, Yvon says, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life, it’s so easy to make it complex. But what’s important is leading an examined life…” I smile slightly. I know this quote. It’s the quote of so many wise people. Of Thoreau. Of Emmerson. Of Buddah.
“If we’re not careful, we make our lives busy, complicated, and unnecessary…. Our minds become complicated by petty details and wants, and we become ever more confused.” - Buddhism Plain and Simple.
Every traveling spirit I’ve ever met has said this out loud. Or lived it out loud. I’ve written promises to myself of this very nature, filling dozens of journals from my twenties. “To live simply.” It has always been a common theme. A theme I’m reminded of.
It is not selfishness that prompts seeking, although it is self actuating.
“People say you can’t go back but what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward. Or you turn 180 degrees and take one step forward…. Which is progress?” - Doug.
We’ve traveled this road as a family, as individuals, to this place. This end of the road, in a way. This place, the end goal, the space we’ve never talked past. This. In a way, it is the edge of our cliff. Our proverbial cliff.
It is time to step forward by stepping back. It is time to simplify. Change.
“We are a cross between our parents and hippies in a tent.” -Spring Wind.
“I can still turn back. But I will not. I will go over the edge and step into whatever is beyond.” -Beyond the Sky and the Earth
I think about the things I worry of. Ridiculously silly, actually. Bills tend to get paid, however late. People will be disappointed from a forgetful, unorganized me. People forgive. It is this cycle that I live by daily.
I find love in spite of myself.
“If I don’t get on that boat, I know exactly what I’m going home to. If I do, my future is unwritten.” - Jeff.
A good friend recently told me I had an obvious traveler’s soul. “But I haven’t traveled enoughhhh,” I groaned. “But you will. Or you have, maybe in another life. You have the spirit. You say yes. You say yes to adventure every.fucking.time.”
It is both the most loved, and most hated, quality I possess, depending on who is asking the questions.
“The best journeys answer questions, that in the beginning, you didn’t even think to ask.” -Jeff.
I’m ready for the journey. I’m always ready for the journey.
“I know its been hard to take and I know you wanna run. We hope you will stay in one place, and dance before it’s done.” - Coconut Flakes.
Now, it is just finding the proper journey to take. Which way is progress: forward.
**Photo props and suggestion of the movie goes to Ashley. Frankly, most of this whole post does, including the quote about my traveling soul.
**Photo is of me at our climbing wall. Next up: Surfing. Kayaking. And a real.honest.to.goodness.wall. This summer will not be boring. Booyah.
God he is slow. Why is he going so slow? He is old. He can not drive well, as indicated by the dangling Handicap sign from his rear view mirror. This should be a clue to me to back off. He is trying. He is my elder. But he is making me late to Yoga.
And ohmygod I can not miss Yoga. Not today. Not today.
It becomes nearly comical as he pumps his breaks slowing to 25mph down the 35mph hill. COOOMMEEOONNN I groan. “Just put it in third gear, buddy. You can do it”. I’m coaxing him from my own vehicle not far enough back from his. I just want him to go. JUST GO.
If I wasn’t so irritated, I would chuckle when he stops for right on red. He does not go. He will not chance it. Even if it is his right-of-way.
Suddenly I’m remembering leaving church as a child. How everyone would sing their praises, nod in agreement, “let us go forth in peace” they would say together. Within minutes people are bullying one another for the chance to leave first. To cut off another parishioner. To get as far away from there as possible. It’s a classic joke, the church people and their parking lot. Always living in hypocrisy.
It’s a wonder I make it just as my Yoga instructor is about to lock the door and start class. As I almost always do, I breeze through the door a little too quickly. “Hi!” I kick off my shoes breathlessly. “You are just in time,” my strong grandmother Yoga instructor smiles. I tell her of the old man and of how I am not living my practice when I am late to class. “It’s all the more reason to come,” she says in the same tone she uses to instruct each of us in to positions. Her tone is so peaceful, strong, empowering. “Yes” I agree. “Yes.”
I often agree with her through our brief time each week together. She laughs easily. She shares stories of her family and her practice. She is living proof that my goals can be reality. She does not take herself too seriously but is serious in her teaching. She corrects us gently, each of us listening to her cadence. “Downward Dog. Warrior Two. Half Triangle. Reverse your Warrior. And. Chaturanga.” We move collectively in the heat. Dripping. Breathing. Listening. Doing. I forget about the old man and his inability to go the speed limit. I forget about the deadline. I forget about the heaviness of life.
Often in those times, I pretend I am somewhere else. The heat. The music. The low, soft breathing of my fellow Yogis. We are here, together, but none of us are truly in this room. We are present in our bodies but we are centered in a bigger place. We fill space with our breath. Our muscles quake. We are tired. We are thirsty.
We are happy.
It is for this reason I speed to class some days. It is not the old man’s fault I am still learning to find this peace outside of that studio. If I could explain to him, I would. “I am young enough to know I want more and old enough to know I have to grab it.” I would explain this to him on his front porch sucking cherries off their pits. We would rock side-by-side and he would nod, years of wisdom behind his eyes. “It is not that I am not happy,” I might continue in this imaginary discussion, “It is that I’m afraid it will not stay.” He will pass on years of understanding and I will lick the cherry juice from my finger.
It is not his fault we did not have this conversation. But next time, perhaps, I’ll remember to leave a few minutes earlier and truly live my practice both before, during, and after my class. It is my goal.
It is good to have goals.
Life is chaotic now. I knew the change was coming but you can never fully prepare for it. It’s like a pregnant mother waiting for the birth of her child. She hears all of you telling her to “sleep while you can” and “Woahboy, your first, hu? Big change is coming!” but those words are simply words. They are not experiences until she is in the midsts of it, and then it is irrelevant.
Words can be meaningless.
Or they can change your world.
The other day my Yoga instructor kept telling us to find our Drishti. Drishti, I repeated in my mind. Drishti. I knew she was telling us to find our focus. Our point of concentration. I looked up the meaning and found this definition: “Drishti is the focus of the eyes in meditation. This is the focal point where one’s gaze lies to attain concentration alignment, and inner and outer balance. One actually does this to prevent distractions, but should be looking inwardly and not concentrate on the physical object. This could be the tip of your nose or in between your eyebrows, depending on your yoga pose.” (source)
“This is the focal point where one’s gaze lies to attain concentration alignment, and inner and outer balance. One actually does this to prevent distractions.”
I am a very distracted woman right now. I need to find my Drishti.
With the chaos at home, there is no zen. With the lack of Internet, work is sporadic at best. With the children in unrest, life is constant soothing, meeting their needs, not finding time to put their beds together because WHERE IS THE HARDWARE IT WAS IN THE BOX ZOMG.
Life… lacks Drishti.
So I find this word as powerful as the act itself. “Drishti.” I start planning ways to focus. I find ways to balance. I shift a bit left, a little right, a new list here, a meeting there. I work to re-compartmentalize my life in ways I can find peace and harmony.
And in the mean time, I remind myself words are only words until you are in the middle of the experience, however difficult that may seem.
One of my favorite parts about having children is that sayings you haven’t heard since 1982 become part of daily life again. “You know what? Chicken Butt.” Kids either keep you young or toss you right back in time to create a very large, somewhat over weight ten year old. It’s awesome.
I picture you taunting me as I write this post. “Leslie and Yoga sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage…” Or else you’re just poking your eyes out, “STOP WITH THE YOGA DEAR GOD STOP”
No. You’re not the boss of me.
During this time of transition, we’re all a little wonky. Bat-shit-crazy. Losing our ever loving minds. We’re all bumping in to boxes and searching for things and coming up cussing, “Did you already pack the [insert important item here]?!” HULK SMASH.
It’s like, so totally rad. Not.
I have a tendency to “pile on” as Mr. Flinger says. When things get hard, I make them harder. Deadline at work? Why not try to get four sites done instead of that one big one? Moving and having most of your food in chaos? Why not start a diet and freak out about not losing weight because you’re eating out too often? Worried about paying bills? Why not make a long spreadsheet about how you need to repair the cars before they both die and OMG WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE ONE DAY MOTHER OF ALL MERCY.
See? Piling on.
It just so happens that I’ve also decided to love me some Yoga. Yoga makes the piling on go away. Yoga makes the weight, well, in theory, go away. (I have yet to experience this phenomenon even though I’m sore most every day. I’m working really hard not to pile on right now about why my body hates me so much.)
Seriously, someone stop me. I’m about to post pictures.
OH YES I AM.
I’m trying to find balance. To be OK with a touch of chaos. To reflect on the fact that it always gets done, one way or another, it always gets done.
I’m trying to reach inward, not outward, to find strength. To be a woman capable of keeping the family in harmony when harmony is most impossible.
I’m seeking ideals from new foundations, bringing outside, fresh, new perspectives in; finding quotes comforting and challenging, as much as new poses and the rhythm of the Vinyasa in Yoga class are. “Buddhism holds that everything is in constant flux. Thus the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night, and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring, morning, and birth.” -Daisaku Ikeda quotes
At the end of the day, I strive to find hope, spring, morning, birth. To focus on the lengthening daylight and the new buds of life. I remind my family that soon, very soon, our lives will become what we always strived for. My daughter reads and talks about first grade. My son asks how to spell words and writes his own two-year-old version. We tackle growth and learning and becoming as one: a family adapting, growing, seeking.
And still, we sit at the dinner table telling very corny knock knock jokes and one-upping each other with “that’s what she said.”
Because some things never change.
(Heh, I said when things get hard.)
The room is hot today. Hotter than usual. I ponder this as my heart races.
Perhaps it is not the room, but my head.
Thoughts pound within the sides of my skull. Anger, frustration, uncertainty. I hear the sound of the room breathing, Pranayama. In. Out. In. Out.
We begin our salutations. I stretch. I try to release. My tummy folds on itself and I judge it. I feel myself tense and I release again. I remind myself it birthed two children that I love dearly and not to hate it for its work.
I breath in again. And out.
We fold in to downward dog. Breathing. The voice from the teacher reminds us to be center. “Nothing Beyond” she says. Nothing Beyond I remind myself. Centered. On this mat. In this room. In this heat. Right now.
I find myself rattling off a todo list and wondering if I’ve heard back from so-and-so. I catch myself.
I envision a mountain. I try, as two of my favorite authors both stated in their path to meditation, to let my thoughts be as clouds to me, the mountain. I try to acknowledge my thoughts but not dwell upon them.
I do another pushup, another stretch, another Vinyasa.
In our final Savasana I feel myself pulled by gravity. I am grounded. I am stable. I am strong and empowered.
I am a little more able to work. To focus. To be.
It is the “being” that I am most working on.
Being nothing beyond.
This is the goal.
It’s warm for January. The buds are unsure. The clock says to wait but the weather debates. I notice this as I walk and breathe deeply inhaling the fresh smell of pine and exhaling exhaustion. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
I think about how connected everything is. There is no circle that does not touch another. The trees and the plants, the small town I live. The people I know all know one another. The business I have touches others in my community and the community in which I do business reaches beyond the pond to even more communities.
There is not a single blade of grass in my life that does not belong to the larger lawn.
It is with this spirit that I walk today. I walk the trails that connect my home in the suburbs to my work downtown. I walk with the music I found through an Internet channel, the same channel heard by friends as far away as Australia. I walk with the shoes I got in Vegas with my friend from Oakland and I walk by the road to my daughter’s new friend from school.
This connection, the circle of circles, expands and contracts, like lungs. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” - - Dahli Lama
It is with this quote that I walked today. With the unusual sun on the usual path in the usual circle in which I live. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
*image courtesy of my long time dear friend Nicole.
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