Be Still (a meditation on meditation)

There was a time when you were floating in primordial fluid.
Unaware of any past. Unaffected by what was to come.
No thoughts, no ideas, no words.
Nothing but the rushing sound of
your heart beating and your blood flowing.

That was You. And You were perfect.

There were no worries, no plans, no preparations,
no hopes, no dreams, no expectations
no stress, no fear and no regret
no past, no present, no since, no yet.
Then, on its own, on its very own and with no warning at all,
a terrifying and amazing miracle occurred and you were born,

and You cried.

For a while you remained unspoiled by ideas, with only basic needs.
Sustenance. Comfort.
And then you learned what was taught to you by others around you.
Their ideas became your ideas.
Their desires became your desires.
Their aversions became your aversions.
You went out into the world.
You developed discriminating tastes.
You challenged the beliefs of others.
No longer satisfied with simple sustenance,
you longed for other things; attention, acceptance, approval, affection.

Collecting your thoughts ideas and desires on the way,
dragging the past along with you into the ever-present future,
building up an overwhelming need for
something more,
something different,
something easier, faster, bigger, better,
that keeps you moving, moving,
always moving,
often fighting against the current.

You don’t have to fight the current.
You don’t even have to move forward.
Time will do that for you.
Let time do the moving.

As for you,
Be still
and know who you are.

Try to remember the time
when there was no need to swim upstream.
(When you were perfect.
When you were floating.
When life was fluid.
Everything that needed to happen, happened on its own)

and float again.

You can float again
through this womb of a world,
to some other birth that may or may not lie ahead.
You can float again,
without cause or concern
resting in the knowledge that you are still
growing and changing every day.

There is no moving forward,
and no looking back.
Turn your attention inward.
Deeper and deeper.
Peel away the layers of thoughts and ideas,
of dreams and desires.
of stresses and fears.
They are not You.

Get back to that You,
back to that place,
floating in the air around you,
unaffected by what may come,
nothing but the rushing sound of
your heart beating and your blood flowing.

Imagine that time before you were born
Imagine when
You were floating
You were fluid
You were perfect.

You were perfect,
You still are.
When you are still.

………………………………………………..

Posted in It's All Yoga, Poetic License | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Colour My World

It is scary but it’s true
I am in charge of the world

With every action and reaction
I am the decider of my days

My own attitude
my own thoughts
set the tone and
make the mood

It is not the news
the traffic
or the weather
It is not the people in my house
the people on the street
not the cops or the criminals
the butcher or the bartender
the televangelist or the terrorist
the dentist or the democrat
the co-worker or the construction crew
the priest or the president
the media or the masses

It does not matter
who holds up traffic
who holds the remote control
who holds the purse strings
who holds all the cards
who holds an office

Because I hold the key
I have all of the power

I am in charge of my world
every action and reaction
I am the decider of my days

With every human interaction
I choose my action and reaction
And by my choice
I can help people
to feel miserable
or joyful
To feel loved
or alone
To feel appreciated
or ignored

I choose my action and reaction
And by my choice
I can set expectations,
Coax, criticize, seek control,
Or I can practice acceptance,
allow things to be as they are,
offer encouragement and assistance.

I choose my action and reaction
And by my choice
I can become an instrument of inspiration
or a tool of torture
a reminder of happiness and hope
or a harbinger of doom and gloom

I choose my action and reaction
And by my choice
In all situations
Each and every situation
I can allow a moment to explode
or decompress,
I can allow a crisis to escalate
or de-escalate.

I choose my action and reaction
And by my choice
I can fully humanize
every single person
I come in contact with
every single person
I see
in real life
on television
on the internet
I can choose to find the human
the humanity
the humanness
the oneness
the sameness
In every single person
To treat every single person
with human kindness human decency human dignity
or I can choose to patronize
ostracize
marginalize
even bestialize them
to see them as
some sort of other,
to make them somehow
less than human
to make them
somehow
less than me.

Each choice
each decision
each interaction
minute by minute
person by person
day by day
piles on top of the one before
to build the story

I make the news
I make the traffic
and the weather
My own attitude
My own thoughts
Piling up to
set the tone and
make the mood

I am the decider of my days
with every action and reaction

I am in charge of the world
It’s scary but it is true.
*******************************

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This post was directly inspired by the following Haim Ginott quote about teachers.

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Posted in It's All Yoga, Poetic License | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Street Art Namaste

On Friday night I went to a club in Newark, NJ.    I go there from time to time, to hang with old friends, to hear music that I love, to dance like a maniac. It’s a freaky alternative club that might scare some people, in the heart of a city that a lot of people have given up on.  But I still enjoy going there, even after all these years because Newark is still my city, and as diseased and broken as it might be, it is still my heart.

We parked the car on a dark sleepy side street, about two blocks from the club. Other cars lined the street, but there were no people around.  As we were walking I noticed a Poor King painted on a wall.  So I had to cross the street to take a picture. Then I began to tell my friend about him, the Poor King.

I was on my way to teach one day, stopped at a red light when I saw this little face painted on a signal box.  It was just a simple line drawing of a king. He looked a bit sad.

But I fell instantly in love.

The next few times I drove by, I hoped for a red light so I would have time to snap a picture. Three weeks in a row I ended up with blurry drive by shots (yeah, I get it).  Finally one day the red light was mine again, and I was able to get a clear picture.     Then a few weeks later, I saw another King!  He was painted on a Health insurance  billboard.  I snapped another picture and this time I posted it on Facebook.  A yogi friend of mine told me that she had seen him all over Newark.   A police officer friend told me that he was working one night when they arrested the “artist”!

Arrested him. So, yeah. It’s illegal.  It’s graffiti.   It’s a nuisance to building owners.

I know all of that, but when I heard he was all over the city, I became obsessed with finding more.  I couldn’t help it, because as I said, I had fallen in love.   I was waiting to see him on every wall,  searching for him on every signal box, anticipating him on every billboard and abandoned building. And once I started looking,  I started to see him everywhere!  I would take different routes every day in hopes of discovering another.  And I would! And each one would make me smile.

It was like when I first encountered Ganesh and I started seeing elephants everywhere.  My eyes had been opened, and my Poor King was everywhere.    He was just like the Hidden Mickeys in DisneyWorld, only NOT AT ALL.

He became a symbol to me, of what exactly, I wasn’t sure?
Maybe he was a symbol of Oppression: “I should be a King, but here I am, living in poverty.”
Maybe he was a symbol of permanent Despair:  “I am poor, and I will always be poor.
Maybe he was a symbol Hope: “I know I’m poor, but I am still a king!”

Whatever he was intended to be, I adopted him as my own.  He became the mascot of my city, a symbol of different things on different days, depending on what I was feeling, depending on what I was needing.

On Friday night, I was happy to be standing there taking that picture, because it had been a while since I had spotted a new one. A long while.  My rides to teach had become more routine, and I hadn’t really been venturing to new places in the city.

Then, as we rounded the corner, I saw him again! My friend the King! On another wall!   This one was much bigger, and he looked more like a knight than a king, but I knew it was him.  So I snapped another picture!

Two in one night! I was very excited.  Because, like I said,  it had been a while since I had a seen a new one.

We went to the club. We danced. We had a great time.  I smiled at my King as we walked back to the car at 2AM.

Today I decided to post the photos on Facebook.   Someone asked me “What is a poor king?”  I could have simply responded, “Street art”.  But as I was about to write it I could feel a whole lot of emotion rising up.   He wasn’t just street art, my King.  He was much more than that. He meant something to me, and now, he had reappeared. Just when I needed him.

It has been a rough few weeks in our world.  I’ve been trying to concentrate and focus my thoughts so I could write something about what has been happening in Baltimore. But I was drowning in TV news, articles and videos, and I could hardly breathe.  One article I read  incited me to “invest in the potential and promise of the people who live there”.  But I’ve been so full of sadness and frustration and anger and understanding and loving-kindness and despair and hope I couldn’t invest in anything.  I was left with a scattered-messy-over-the-top spoken word piece and half a dozen half-written blog posts.  I just could not seem to wrap my brain around things tightly enough to zero in on what I wanted to say.

What I want to say has something to do with peace and love and the fact that there is no “US and THEM”.  What I want to say has something to do with please would you all just shut the hell up,  and get up off of your asses and go out and change this world, and make it better for our kids and their kids!  What I want to say has something to do with loving kindness and human decency but it just seems to turn into a never ending cyclical rant about injustice and privilege and guilt and poverty and so many other things…

And I keep wondering, what is it that I can say?  What is it that I can do? How can I help the situation? When I shut the hell up and get up off of my ass, how can I make things better?

Then this morning in my search for an answer to the seemingly simple question “What is a poor king?” I decided to go to Google. And this is what I found:

“Knowing and seeing the royalty in one’s self and everyone else”. That is what the Poor King is. That is what Poor Kingzz profess to be.

And that is also Namaste.  Every time I teach a class for Newark Yoga Movement, we end by saying   “I see the good in you.  You see the good in me. We see the good in each other. Namaste.”

From now on the Poor King is my Street Art Namaste; a reminder that we are all the same; a reminder to see the goodness, the glory, the light and the royalty in every one.  I won’t stop looking for him. I will continue to drive down side streets to find him.  He makes me smile.  He gives me Hope.

After months, maybe even a year, of not spotting a new Poor King, I was lucky enough to see two on Friday.  Posting the photos, finding the Poor Kingzz Art Facebook page,  reading this quote has reminded me, reassured me, and recharged me.

I am doing what I can do to make this world a better place. I may be poor at communicating my thoughts on important issues,  but being out there, spreading the message that there is peace and goodness in every person, makes me a Poor King.

I may not be screaming and shouting in the streets about social justice.  I may not be winning any arguments with other-minded people.  I am, however, spreading a message of justice and decency and respect to one child at a time,
one breath at a time,
in my city,
in my heart.

Posted in It's All Yoga | Leave a comment

Let It Begin With Me

Imagine that you are driving down the highway at a decent pace in heavy volume traffic, and some guy in a Mustang cuts you off. Without warning he zips right in front of you, forcing you to depress the brake and slow your pace. Then he speeds ahead, cutting off another car next to you, gets into the left lane and zooms off, weaving all the way.

At the moment that he cuts you off you can scream and shout and lay on your horn. You can give him the finger, and yell a few choice words. You can even speed up, and try to chase the guy down. You can follow him, screaming and honking. You can pull up along side of him, roll down your window and tell him exactly how you feel.

Then you can be pissed off. Huffing and puffing and stewing about how this self-entitled asshole thinks he can go faster than everyone else. When you arrive at your destination, you can talk about it to your friends. You can tell the whole story in dramatic detail. Enraged. Animated. Expressive.

Or, you can just let it go.

Yes, he cut in front of you. That’s over now. He’s 10 car lengths ahead of you and you’ll never see him again. There is no damage done. Go back to singing with the radio. Take the middle way. Practice equanimity.

It’s not easy to get to that place. I have met a few people who seem to be close. I hope to get closer every day. A little less road rage, a little more singing of power ballads. A little less Psycho Mommy, a little more patience. A little less self-righteousness, a little more understanding. A little less fear, anger, hatred and a little more humanity. A little less turmoil and a little more inner peace.

I want to be calm enough and confident enough in my peace, that I can react from that place; a place of equanimity, evenness of temper, and evenness of mind; a state of undisturbed calm.

I’ve come to realize that this may not be everyone’s goal.

A lot of people prefer to be up and down. They need distractions and disturbances. They need struggle, and they need drama. They like to experience extreme joy, and they sometimes look forward to dwelling in deep sadness. They need to stress about the future and they like to indulge in nostalgia. To a lot of people the idea of living a life of undisturbed calm is, quite simply, boring as hell.

People get so used to being a certain way, and reacting to situations in a certain way, that they think those reactions are actually a part of their nature. They believe that it is what people have come to expect of them, and it’s just the way they are, and will always be.

But that isn’t true. We can change our habitual reactions at any time, if we want to. There is more than one way to react to any situation. And the middle way is always there if we want to take it. Our reactions do not have to be extreme. They can arise from a peaceful and undisturbed mind.

The Dalai Lama said:
“The way to develop inner peace through meditation
begins with the recognition that the destroyer of inner peace
is not some external foe, but is within us.
Therefore, the solution is within us too.
However, that inner change does not take place immediately
in the way that we switch on a light,
but takes weeks, months and years.”

A few months ago my quest for inner peace and equanimity led me to a loving-kindness meditation. I began sitting with my breath and repeating these phrases.

May I be well.
May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be loved
May I be free from suffering

I did it every day, a few times a day. Whenever I had a minute or two (literally 60 or 120 seconds on a timer), I sat still, closed my eyes and breathed the words.

The first few times I did it at home, I cried. When a yoga teacher coincidentally made us do it in a class, I cried. And because it made me cry, I knew I had to keep doing it. So I did. I did it until it didn’t make me want to cry anymore.

Then I began to meditate on the people in my life that I love, dedicating my words to one person each time.
May they be well.
May they be happy.
May they be peaceful.
May they be loved.
May they be free from suffering

Without judgment, I noticed my reactions. The words felt different for each person. I think it depended on how much I felt they needed to be wrapped in loving kindness, or on how much relief I thought they might need from their suffering.

And then I began to include other people. While the attendant pumped my gas, I breathed the words for him. While I sat at a red light, I breathed the words for the woman at the bus stop. While I waited in line at CVS I breathed the words for the cashier.

I hope you are well, happy, peaceful, loved, free.

I began to send these thoughts to everyone, all the time.

And then I knew it was time to send it out to some other people. Those who try my patience, aggravate me, frustrate me. Those people I “have nothing against”, but on whom I would rather not spend any time or energy.  I began to wish them wellness, happiness, peace, love, freedom from suffering. And I noticed, without judgment the way that it made me feel. (It ain’t always easy.)

It is relatively easy to make a sweeping statement about peace in the world. It is easy for me to generalize and say, I wish the whole world were free from suffering. I can wish love and peace and wellness to everyone.

May all beings be happy and free. Easy, right?

It’s what we all wish for. Isn’t it? Who doesn’t want peace on earth?

Hmmm…? Peace to everyone implies peace to Every. Single. One. Even the speed demon on the highway. Even the people we hate. Even the people who have insulted us. Wronged us. Abused us. Traumatized us. Scarred us. Even the people we think we will never forgive.

We have to say the words for those people. Well, happy, peaceful, loved, free. Noticing without judgment, how it feels to say those words for them. Maybe it will feel awful. Maybe it will feel like an absolute lie. Maybe it will begin to soften. Maybe it will begin to release us from our own suffering. Maybe we will absolutely refuse to do it.

Before we can wish it for the entire world, we have to take these steps. Before we let the easy words “Let there be peace on earth” roll off our tongues, we have to do some work.

It starts with me. I want inner peace. To get it I must be well, happy, loved, peaceful, free from suffering. Until I release the hatred for my enemies, forgive those who have wronged me, I can’t be truly free from my own suffering. If I cling to my anger and my habitual reactions, if I lose my evenness of temper and of mind, then I am the one who suffers. Then I’m not yet at peace.

If we don’t project loving kindness, that guy in the Mustang is happily belting out “Born to Run” with his windows rolled down while we’re left to stew in our own silent Subarus.

So let’s turn the radio up and wish him wellness, happiness, peace, love and freedom. And then we can have all of that too, and bring it to the rest of our world.

Isn’t that what we all wish for? Who doesn’t want world peace?

I hope you are well, happy, peaceful, loved, and free.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?

 

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

 

 

Posted in It's All Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

go your own way

(for Trinity, who might do a handstand along the way, or might not)

Everyone moves at their own pace

No time is ever wasted

Some press through the stream  to the other side
Some bend down to touch it, taste it
Some forge through the woods with machete in hand
Some stop to wrestle with demons
Some keep their eyes turned to the ground
Some marvel at the changing seasons 
Some start out early, before first light 
Others take time to get going
Some float along without a plan
And some insist on knowing
How long will it take? And when will it end? 
A year? A week? A day? 
There ‘s no timed map for this here trail 
Your path is your only way
Some trip and rise a thousands times
Some are too afraid to fall
Some sit cross-legged or cross-armed
And never move at all
Some hear voices in their heads
And let them drift along like clouds 
Some hear the voices of others,
Then raise their fists and rage out loud 
Some stick close to the trail markers 
Some meander through the brush
Some sing songs and march in cadence
Some get lost in nature’s hush
Some like to travel in packs
afraid to be alone 
Some need to hold another’s hand
Some prefer to walk alone 
Some try to slow you with distractions,
Or force you into line
Some tell you to move faster
They say you’re wasting time.
But you alone must set your pace 
No time on this path is wasted
Each rose is yours to stop and smell
Each demon yours, til you’ve faced it 
Moving, breathing all the while, 
Walk, skip, fly, swim the sea.
Be brave, be fearful, be weak, be strong, 
Or choose to simply be. 
They might seem far ahead of you
Or behind? It’s hard to tell
All paths are intersecting and 
All paths are parallel
Take whatever time you need to take
You will end right where you started
Ready to walk the path again
Clear headed and open hearted 
**
***
****
Posted in It's All Yoga | Leave a comment

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Over and over, day after day, we tell ourselves our life story. Rereading sentences paragraphs, chapters. Repeating words that were written years ago. Retelling it from the beginning, time and time again, until we become our story.

We become the story we have been telling ourselves for so long. But the story may not be true.

Sure, there is some truth to it, but is it completely accurate? How old were you when you wrote those pages? What did you even know then? Was it a story someone else told you about yourself?  How has it been colored over time?  Why do you still believe it? How can you trust that it is true?  Are you really a reliable narrator?

What if you just stop telling that story?  Who would you be, if you stopped telling yourself the story over and over?    Who could you become if you started living in the moment and stopped living in your story?
If you stop telling yourself to hold on to the past, could you release it?
If you stop telling yourself that you were wronged, could you forgive?
If you stop telling yourself that you’re neurotic could you relax?
If you stop telling yourself you’re afraid of heights, could you climb that mountain?
If you stop telling yourself you’re an insomniac, could you sleep through the night?
If you stop telling yourself you are ostracized, could you be embraced?
If you stop telling yourself you are addicted could you give it up?
If you stop telling yourself you were victimized could you be victorious?
If you stop telling yourself you can’t live without it, could you do without?
If you stop telling yourself you’re a pessimist, could you see the bright side?
If you stop telling yourself you’re an introvert could you blossom?
If you stop telling yourself you always lose, could you finally win?
If you stop telling yourself you don’t like exercise could you start to move?
If you stop telling yourself you have no willpower could you succeed this time?
If you stop telling yourself you’re hungry, could you be full?
If you stop telling yourself you have to do it, could you stop?
If you stop telling yourself you’re unlovable could you be loved?
If you stop telling yourself you can’t do it, could you find a way?
If you stop telling yourself you’re unworthy, could you find worth?
If you stop telling yourself you’re short-tempered, could you react calmly?
If you stop telling yourself you’re alone, could you find community?
If you stop telling yourself things never go your way, could you turn it around?
If you stop telling yourself you are stubborn, could you let go?
If you stop telling yourself you make bad choices, could you choose wisely?
If you stop telling yourself you’re broken, could you be repaired?
If you stop telling yourself you’re ugly, could you see the beauty?
If you stop telling yourself you’ve been wronged, could you make things right?
If you stop telling yourself you’re damaged, could you find peace?Try it.  Just stop.

Start living in this moment.  Stop living in your stories.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Fill in the blanks. If I stopped telling myself __________, I could ______________.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Posted in It's All Yoga | 4 Comments

Play Dead, Save a Prayer

When I was very young, some obviously sadistic member of my family taught me a bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Tell me. Please. What the hell kind of prayer is this to teach to a small child?

Later on I learned that there were other much nicer versions of this prayer. Versions without the dying and the soul taking.  By then it was too late, though. The damage had been done.

I said this prayer every night before bed.  After just a few days I started to think… Die before I wake?!  And then I would actually lie awake wondering if I was going to die. It became a tangible fear. Will it be tonight?  Am I going to die tonight? Oh, God I hope it’s not tonight.

I should have given up on that damned prayer.  But I was three!  What did I know?   Instead of giving up on it I started to us it as a magic spell.   I thought that if I said it I would be protected.  I would be good for another day of life.  If I forgot, then surely that would be the night I died.

This ritual stayed with me for a very long time.  On mornings when I woke up and realized I hadn’t prayed the night before, I would consider that as a gift. A miracle! Whew.  I made it.  He must’ve been busy listening to other kids last night.  

I became obsessed with the idea that either I or someone I knew would definitely be dying in their sleep. It must happen all of the time, right?  Or else why would I have to say a prayer to keep it from happening? So my prayer grew to include everyone I knew. A long list of people that should not be taken in their sleep.

When my grandfather would nap on the couch I would watch his chest rising and falling to make sure he wasn’t dead.  When I woke up in the middle of the night to go to bathroom I would check to make sure my parents were still alive.  When I was eight years old my great-grandmother died while I was away at church camp.  I wondered if I had remembered to say my prayers that night.

Ten years later, nighttime got really scary for me.   My dad was battling cancer.  I would spend my nights lying awake, trying to tune my ears in to his breathing in the other room, to make sure he hadn’t died.  During the day when he slept in the reclining chair I was back to my old pastime of watching the rise and fall of someone else’s chest.   And if I couldn’t see him moving I would make sudden noises to startle him awake.
“What?” he would say as he rolled his eyes open and looked my way.
“Nothing. Sorry. Go back to sleep.” I’d reply.

There was a good six month chunk of time when I only slept an hour or two a night.  I was exhausted. I was prone to crying jags and panic attacks when I wasn’t writing morose poems or drinking beer.

I was in a lecture hall one morning and the professor had gone off on a tangent about near death experiences, walking toward the light, that sort of thing.  I was about to get up and leave because I felt the panic rising up from my center. But I forced myself to sit in the giant lecture hall, shaking my leg nervously and chewing my cuticles as the walls closed in around me.  The professor then said “Why do we have to be so concerned with death? It’s gonna be just like it was before we were born. And that couldn’t have been too bad. Or we’d remember it, wouldn’t we?”

I went home that night, and I slept soundly. Ahhhh.

I wasn’t completely cured, though. Through the years I would still have occasional moments of sheer terror when I would think about dying. Especially immediately after my girls were born. Maybe some of that was hormone induced, but some of that fear is still living deep in my brain.  It has been there for too long to move out completely.

Needless to say, my girls were co-sleepers, because I would have been standing at their cribs with a mirror under their noses every fifteen minutes.

There was a time when writing this would have sent me into a cold sweat and heart palpitations. But I have noticed that lately, I can have actual conversations about death without panicking. Sure I might cry, but I won’t panic. I will get sad for the people I love that have died. I will also get sad if I think of the things I might miss, but I don’t panic any more.

Maybe it was just a matter of time before I learned to deal with my anxiety? Maybe it’s because of a healthier lifestyle and less sleep deprivation.

Maybe it’s because of yoga?

Every time we take a yoga class we act out the drama of human existence on our mats. There are moments of yin and moments of yang. We sweat and we breathe.  We come to terms with what our bodies can and cannot do. We come to terms with the control or lack of control we have over our thoughts. All the while, our subconscious is aware of that final resting pose. Savasana. Corpse Pose.

As we move and breathe and flow, something waits for us at the end. Playing dead. My yoga mat becomes a casket.  I am a corpse. And I haven’t been dreading this pose. Not at all.  I have actually been looking forward to it.

I practice being dead a few times a week, and somehow this has been sinking into my subconscious. There is a new groove being carved into the record that is my brain.   I have been teaching myself a new prayer.

Now I lie me down to rest.
This is the pose that I like best.
Nothing but breath flowing in and out.
This is what life is all about.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Play Dead by Bjork

Save a Prayer by Duran Duran

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

Posted in It's All Yoga | Leave a comment