A Figure of Speech 

I remember the day that I first fell in love. It was the spring of 1977. I was 9 years old.  She was standing at the front of the room, chalk dust on her hands, hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. I was listening to her voice, sing-song, lilting. I was completely unaware that my world was about to explode.

Then it happened. She said the word, and as she said it, my ears perked up, my eyes widened, my heartbeat quickened. Something stirred deep down inside of me. It was a feeling I had never felt before, yet it was achingly familiar. I knew, I somehow knew, that my life would never be same after that. After she said the word. The word that sparked my ever-living, ever-loving, undying devotion. That amazingly, wonderful, hypnotic word.

She said,  ‘Onomatopoeia’.

Just as the beautiful, blessed, wonderful word slipped from her lips, she gazed at me. She saw my reaction. Gasp! It was as if she could hear my heartbeat from the front of the room. Thump! Thump! She knew what she was doing to me. She looked right through me and kept on going.

‘Alliteration,’ she said. I could barely breathe.

‘Simile.’  My heart was beating like a drum.

‘Metaphor.’  I was a ticking time bomb.

She could see the excitement in my eyes, and so she continued to speak.

‘Imagery. Allusion. Hyperbole!’  Yes! Yes! A million times, yes!  Call me Alice because I am in Wonderland!

 
By the time she got to caesura- oh, I was spent.

The words! The glorious words! Words to describe other words!

These words expressed what I’d been feeling inside all along. My words had been paint on a palette, just waiting to be tapped and stroked, and now… Now I had the brushes! Now I had the tools that I needed to turn them into something bold and beautiful.

From that moment on, my relationship with words became conscious, active and deliberate. I began to hold words closer to my eyes, to magnify them, to see them more clearly.

I began to turn them over in my hands, to feel them, caress them, squeeze them. I began to tear them apart and put them back together.

I stuck them in my ears, letter by letter.

I swirled them around in my mouth. Chewed on them. I learned how each one felt and tasted. I noticed how every combination of words had a different flavor. How the textures varied on my tongue. Silky, smooth, sharp.

I learned that the exchange of words is always peppered with the unique spices of the participants.  Sweet, sour, bitter, savory. I swallowed them. Digested them. Felt them flowing through my veins.

I began to study the sounds and vibrations in my ears.The rhythm and the timbre of each word, separate and strung together. Staccato, legato, pianissimo, marcato. The consonance the dissonance, inflection, intonation. The clanging and the banging, the tintinnabulation.

I felt them as they flowed from my fingers to the pen and out onto the paper. The thin blue lines, and the thick black curls.

The feeling in my finger-pads as pencil scratched on paper, or my fingertips and fingernails tapping as they typed.

I felt them. Everywhere. Inside me and all around me.

 
And now my thumbs fly furiously across a small screen, trying to keep up with my brain.

Sometimes I can’t keep up.  And sometimes, I have no idea what you’re saying, because I’ve started a relationship with a word you said 5 minutes ago.

I’m busy turning a phrase in my fingers, touching it to the tip of my tongue, banging it against my eardrum.

I’m busy falling in love again, fanning the fire that was ignited years ago by a woman whose name I can’t remember.

She had me at ‘Onomatopoeia’.

 

 

 

 

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The Politics of Compassion 

A slow, steady, daily practice of loving kindness and compassion for all people can tear down walls. Even Trump sized walls.

With compassion in mind, I watched the Republican National Convention. Compassion for all includes compassion for an influential celebrity who chooses to spew divisive words of hatred and fear. It includes compassion for supporters who think white is better than black and straight is better than gay and christian is better than muslim.

With kindness in mind, I tried to understand why the speakers think the way they do. I tried to understand why their words trigger a reaction in me.  I accepted that the words cause a reaction in me other than compassion and kindness. I breathed.

I do this every time someone in my friend group posts something on social media that causes a reaction in my gut. I get a feeling, something in my body, tangible.  I want to respond immediately, but I don’t. I’m not ignoring it.  I’m working with it. I am feeling my feelings. I’m trying to figure out why I feel them.  I’m trying to figure out what they even are.

Sometimes it’s nausea mixed with anger mixed with panic mixed with disbelief mixed with confusion. But it’s definitely not kindness or compassion. Where do they come from?

They come from somewhere. They are inside of me and they well up to the surface when something triggers them.  They are a part of my physiology. And they stack up like bricks around my heart.

So I breathe through them, and I try to soften. I breathe and I try to soften.

Why do I feel this way? My feelings come from every moment that has happened before this one in my life.  And so do their feelings, the feelings that produced their words and ideas. I try to understand why I feel the way I do.  Then I try to understand why they feel the way they do.

We are all just products of circumstance.   We are products of where we were born, how we were raised and what we were taught. It was someone’s responsibility to educate us; our parents, our teachers, our neighborhoods, our churches.

We think our ideas are our own, but they’re not.   They all grew from seeds that were planted by someone else, by some person or experience in our past.

I was discussing this idea with Maggie the other day, and my 15 year old social justice warrior told me in no uncertain terms that we can no longer sow those seeds, because it is “our responsibility to unlearn everything we’ve been taught.” I reminded the young idealist that not everyone believes in letting go of our ancestors’ ideas and embracing a new age.

Coincidentally, I had just read a book about Robert Louis Stevenson, and had been completely taken by a passage he wrote.  He said, “You cannot change ancestral feelings of right and wrong without what is practically soul murder.”

Soul murder. These are strong words. Trying to change someone else’s mind is like trying to murder their soul, and the souls of their ancestors.  We hold on tightly to the things we have been taught. So tightly that some of them are written in our genes.

He went on to advise, “Barbarous as the customs may seem, always hear them with patience, always judge them with gentleness, always find in them some seed of good”.
I am trying to do this, daily. I’ve added his requests for patience and gentleness to my own practice of compassion and kindness.

I don’t argue about politics in the interest of kindness. I don’t want to commit soul murder on anyone.

As I watch the Democratic National Convention tonight, in the interest of compassion, I will continue to slowly gently soften, breath by breath. Tearing my own walls down patiently and gently, brick by brick.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jayne Says

I try to be nonjudgmental
(about yoga poses), 
but, if someone were to press me, 
I might tell them 
that Warrior 2
is one of my favorite poses. 

On one particular day,
however,
my friend Jayne 
kept us hanging out
in Warrior 2 for 
quite some time, 
(quite)
and even though
it’s one of my favorite poses, 
I started to feel a bit weary. 

My arms were growing tired,
my legs were working hard,
I was struggling, uncomfortable,
my mind was wandering and I was
wondering
when we would be moving to the next pose,
wondering
what the next pose would be,
wondering
how long she was going to keep us there.

I was thinking, 
please, 
let us move, 
when will we move?
tell us to move, 
I need to move,
dear god, can we move?

I decided I was going to move. 
After all,
I didn’t have to stay there. 
I have freedom of choice,
I can always choose
to seek comfort.

Just as I was about to 
move out of the pose, 
she said something 
about staying in the moment.
She said something
about presence of mind. 
She said something
about appreciating all that is happening,
right where we are.

She said, ‘Just be here. Love this.’
‘Just be here. Love this’, she said 

And I thought to myself, 
as I held steady, 
Can you just be here? 
Can you love this moment? 
Can you really, truly, completely,
be in this moment
instead of standing here 
waiting for your practice to begin?


Your practice isn’t on hold 

while you’re struggling impatiently in this pose.
This pose is your practice. 
This practice is your life. 
This moment is your life.
Why are you waiting for your life to begin?
Your life is not on hold.
You may think you put it on hold
to do other things,
for other people, 

while you wait 
to go somewhere else 
to do something else
that you really want to do
for  yourself.

But your life is not on hold. 
It
 never stopped.
It’s here. It’s this. 
This is your life.
This.

She said, ‘Just be here. Love this.’


Stop your mind 
from wandering 
away from this moment.
Stop drifting off to a different place,
wishing you were somewhere else.
Stop reminiscing,
rehashing,
regretting the past.

Stop looking forward to
the time
the place
the day.

The day is here.
This is the day. 
It’s here.
Be here.

‘Just be here. Love this.’ she said.


Stop wishing that your life would change.

It is changing.
It is constantly changing.
Even when you’re standing still
Even when you’re struggling 
to hold the pose.
With every breath you take,
it never stops changing.

It is changing as you sit here.
So, sit here.
Feel this.
Stay here
Accept this.
Right here.
Embrace this.
Be here.
Love this.

‘Just be here. Love this’ she said.

I heard her

‘…be here. Love this.’

**********

Sharing my earworm Jane Says

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Catfish Hunter

The world is weighing heavily upon us these days. It is easy to be terrified by the chaos that seems to be around every corner. It is easy to feel suffocated by the sadness.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m drowning.

It is times like these when we have to dig a little deeper to find the good, to find the hope, to find the joy of living. 

It’s not easy. It takes practice. 

Imagine life as a fluid thing, a river. At the surface there is activity, a constant flow.  But deep down, far below the surface, there is stillness, calm. 

Sit still. Breathe. Close your eyes and cast your mind far below the surface of the river. Try to tap into that stillness. That is where the joy of life resides. (And the catfish).

These days, when I sit, I always begin with gratitude. Gratitude for my for breath. Gratitude for my body. Gratitude for my life. For all of my abilities. For all I see, hear, smell, touch, taste. For all I feel. Gratitude for all of the people who pass through my life. Gratitude for every experience I am able to have. 


This is never the sort of gratitude that tries to minimize other situations in the world. I never think, well at least I’m breathing, at least I woke up today, at least I don’t live in a war-torn nation.


This is gratitude that celebrates the things I do have. I am alive! I have opportunity to experience things! I am here! Now! Breathing! Living! 


Next, I invite kindness in. Each thought is guided by the intention and the desire to be kind. Every action has behind it the attempt to live kindly.  The key words is ‘attempt’.


I look even deeper for compassion. I try to identify the sameness in a person before the difference. The humanness. I try to put myself in their skin. Sometimes it takes an awful lot of digging to find this lately. But I haven’t tossed my shovel away yet.


I try to release my preconceptions, my biases and prejudices, because every moment is a new moment. Although it is built upon all of the moments that came before, it is a brand new experience. And I am always a beginner. I can take a deep breath, clean the slate, and start fresh. I can be truly present in this moment, with no other moments clouding the experience.


I challenge myself to dig deeper for tolerance, and acceptance. Instead of trying to change the situation by trying to change others, I stop, breathe, try to accept them as they are. Then I attempt to move forward with kindness and compassion.


Instead of railing against people and things, instead of resisting, fighting, pushing against, worrying, fretting, complaining, crying, raging over situations I cannot change or control, I stop. I breathe. I try to accept the fact that they are as they are. And I attempt to move forward with kindness and compassion.


I started by practicing on myself. Instead of fighting with myself; wishing I were something I am not, wishing my life were something it is not; instead of regretting, complaining, excusing, I stopped. I breathed. I accepted myself just as I am. Then I was able to move forward, with kindness and compassion and gratitude.


These are the practices that keep me afloat as the floodwaters rise. Acceptance. Kindness. Presence of Mind. Compassion. Gratitude.


These are the practices that buoy me with peace, harmony, love and a deep underlying sense of joy, no matter what is happening on the outside.  


Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Yelling and arguing with my daughter.  Getting unwanted results from a doctor. Watching the world news. Witnessing a tragedy as it unfolds.  


This is all on the surface of the river. This is simply the flow of life. Things are always happening. There will be moments of calm. There will be (quite often lately) surges and floods. The levees may break.


But the depths remain mostly still. Calm.


Our exterior life is the current, the flow.  We can’t fight it. We have to go with it.  But deep down, we can remain calm. 


With practice, we can learn to tap into the joy. We can always find it if we dive deep enough. 

And if enough of us tread the water together, perhaps we can change the course of the river. Or at least keep eachother company while it rages around us.

……

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Red, White, Black and Blue

We the People
Working toward a more perfect union.
We have a lot of work to do. 

First we have to get past the outrage. 

I am outraged.
How about you? 
What can we do about it?
Where do we even begin? 

Let’s start small…

Today is a good day to send out words of love, encouragement and support to all of your friends who are in law enforcement. 

Let them know you are behind them.
Let them know that you understand that a cop’s life is not always an easy one.
Let them know that you are behind them.  
You don’t buy into the idea that all cops are fearful, racist, trigger happy.  
You understand that the overwhelming majority of cops are protecting and serving us and doing the right thing.
You know that they are struggling daily to make this world a better place. 

It should be easy,
because you’ve been doing it all week.
Simple.

Do it just like you did for all your black friends and their sons earlier this week. 

Do it the same.
Just like you sent out words of love and encouragement and support to the entire African American community. 

You told them that you understand that their life is not always an easy one.
You let them know that you are behind them.
You explained that you don’t buy into the idea that all black youth are gangsters, thugs, trigger happy.
You understand that the overwhelming majority of black kids are studying, working, doing the right thing. 
You let them know you’re behind them. 
You know that they are struggling daily to make this world a better place.
To make their life a better life.

Send support out today for blue lives
just like you’ve been sending it out for black lives 
just like you’re sending it out for all lives.

Just the same. 

Are you outraged?
Did it just start today?
Are the wounds fresh?

or are you black AND blue?
Bruised, battered and broken?Shattered? 

Perhaps we must fall completely to pieces 

In order to establish a more perfect union.
We have a lot of work to do.

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Counting the Cars on the New Jersey Turnpike

This week I read an article about Paul Simon, and his plans to retire from show business.  Simon, who was born in my hometown, Newark, NJ(!), has been making music since he was 11 years old. 63 years of nothing but making music. 

He recently released a new album. The single, ‘Wristband’ is just as catchy as some of his best songs from the 70s and 80s.  The instrumental tracks are mesmerizing. He shows no signs of losing his magical musical touch. Yet, he is going to retire. He’s going to stop making music. 

Why would a music maker stop making music?

He is quoted as saying, ‘I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I? Or am I just this person that was defined by what I did? And if that’s gone, if you have to make up yourself, who are you?’

He’s going to redefine his self, just ‘to see what happens’.  I love this so much. 

If you stop what you’re doing and make yourself up all over again, who are you?  
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July 4th is upon us, and Simon’s ‘America’ is a song I always think of on this holiday weekend. It has a melody and a lyric that never fail to bring me to tears.  

Listen to America.  

I wonder what She would be if She were to make herself up all over again?

 *********

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Curiouser and Curiouser 

Imagine living a life guided by curiosity and wonder.

Imagine days filled with gratitude and amazement. 

Imagine a deep undercurrent of joy running through your life, no matter what the surface brings. 

Imagine erasing your mind of everything you think you know, everything you’ve been taught, everything you believe, and beginning again. 

Imagine a beginner’s mind. What would that be like?

Our daily lives get to be very routine. Most of us like the comfort of that routine. It gives us a sense of security, and the illusion of control. 

Deep down, we are all creatures of habit. But a life of habit can make us mindless. We lose track of time. We can’t even remember the ride to work. We wonder if we took our pill this morning or not?

We waste away the hours in front of some screen or other. We practically live on muscle memory alone, moving through our days like zombies.

We can break ourselves out of this mindless cycle by challenging our daily routines and habits.

Start small. Move your toothpaste to another place in the bathroom. Or move your waste bin to another place in your kitchen. Notice how many days it takes you to change your habit. Notice how you react to the change, physically, emotionally, viscerally.

Even simpler, move all of the icons on your phone. Switch them all around. Notice how habitual your strokes have become. Notice what happens when you have to be mindful rather than mindless. Notice your reaction to the change. (I started doing this every week, just to keep myself on my toes. It has become sort of a game.)

When you free your mind of what you already know, your preconceptions and judgment, and you imagine yourself as a beginner, you can start to see everything with fresh eyes. You can look at everything with curiosity, wonder and amazement.

Giving up Facebook for a week seems like a very simple thing, and it is. But it is also a curious thing because I am learning a lot about myself and the way I interact with my world. 

Giving up alcohol for a month was tough the first time I did it, because beer was my biggest form of social media! It was what connected me to everyone and separated me from them at the same time. 

This extended period of sobriety has opened my eyes to so many curious and wonderful things. Socially, I am a beginner again, because I don’t have my old tipsy behaviors to lean on. I’m developing new muscles. 

I’m not saying everyone should give up the things that make them comfortable. I’m just recommending that you look at each thing you do, all day long, each interaction you have, and ask yourself, have I become complacent? How can I make this brand new? This conversation? This task? This hour? This day?

What would it be like if I let go of my prejudices, my assumptions? What would it be like if I dropped my defenses, released my fears? What would it be like if I treated this as a brand new experience? Could I live a brand new life?

What would my life be like if I could be brand new? 

Aren’t you just a little bit curious?

*********

You Make Me Feel Brand New

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