Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Little Knowledge is More Than You Think

A few years ago, I was in a toy store shopping for Christmas. I have always loved being in nice toy stores. Although it seems like my kids have more toys than any other kids in the entire world, I rarely buy them toys. It was a bustling December day, alive with the holiday shopping energy. I had time and was enjoying browsing, carefully thinking what each child would enjoy, how I would enjoy playing it with them. If I am shopping with Steve, this pleasure is never allowed. But that day, there was no, “Hurry up. Let’s go. Let’s check this off the list. Just grab something. Decision made.” I was also free from, “Mom, look at this. Can I please have this? Pllllllleeeeease. Add this to my list. Come see this. Isn’t it cool? I would really use this alot.” I was relaxed.

Someone walked in and the happy sales woman asked, “Can I help you find something?”

“I am looking for a game called Blokus.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. We just can’t keep that in the store. It is the hot thing this Christmas.”

My ears perked up at this. I am never in on THE HOT THING. I remember as a student in school, I always hated current events. I would rather read a good book. I liked history, I read encyclopedias. I like the solid, the proven. Why read something that will only be good today? I didn’t like quick short reads. I liked to savor, to immerse myself in the other worlds of books. Same with the music scene; it was too much work to keep up with it.

Anyway, back to the HOT THING. Over the next 20 minutes, four separate people came in asking for this game. I was excited to have the info on the new in thing. I kept browsing, repeating Blokus Blokus Blokus over and over in my head so as not to forget. I had drawn my brother in laws name for the Christmas gift exchange, and I wanted to get this for him, for their family to play.

I was examining other games and I heard someone’s surprise delight in the back, “Come look,” she implored to her co- worker. It was not obnoxious or loud, didn’t call attention; it just registered for some reason.

A few minutes later the manager comes up next to me and sets down a box. She opens it and starts to pull out the contents. Another customer almost accosts her saying, “Is that Blokus?” “Yes, we just got in a new box of them.” Suddenly, I was in the midst of a scene that looked like a news bit from Black Friday. There were arms and pushes and scratches and I was literally in the middle of it with the sales lady. She shoves two games in my hands and I just stand there until it was done. It lasted about as long as our golden retriever eating a bowl of dog food - maybe a minute or two. Just like that, I found myself with two of the NEW HOT THING.

I carried them around the store with me and they were a great conversation piece. “Where did you get those?” “Isn’t that a great game?” “My grand kids have that game and we all play it together.” “How do you play?” “Why is that the new hot game?” I had to jump on the bandwagon fast because suddenly I was the one in the know.

I have found myself in the same position about Kripalu. I landed there by surprise in a strange way; my mode of transportation may as well have been a broomstick by night in front of a whole moon. I had no knowledge of the place, and little knowledge of the author I was following there. It was one of my crazy adventures I love.

Funny thing about this adventure, I told less than a handful of people what I was doing. Upon my return, everyone started asking about it. At first I thought I was losing it. I didn’t remember telling people, but I am not a super private person and thought I must have shared with a few. I soon learned that my husband had walked around with a megaphone glued to his mouth the entire weekend letting the community know that I had gone to a writing workshop for the weekend. Bless his heart. When I write thank you notes, he tells me what a great author I am. He was proud.

I didn’t tell anyone because I hate the follow up questions. “You write. Cool. What do you write?” I have learned that no author likes this question, but the experienced ones put up with it, or prepare a canned response. I would answer, “Thank you notes,” but that would get me into trouble with the thousand or so people I owe those to.

Everyone wanted to know more. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t explain it. I came back calmer and resolved to keep plodding along. People are not used to me not talking so they had to ask specific answers only to get one word responses, like when I ask my kids about their days at school. “How was your day?” Fine. “What did you do at recess?” Played soccer. “With whom did you play soccer?” Lots of people.

It went something like this. “How was your weekend away?” Fine. “Where did you go?” East. “Where out East?” Western Mass. “Steve said you went to a writing workshop.” Yes, I did. “Tell me about it.” It wasn’t what I expected, I didn’t really fit it. Everyone did yoga and chanted and ate veggie broth for breakfast. I wanted coffee in the mornings and was disappointed that there wasn’t a bar. And then, because I am not dishing, they turn it to them, “I want to do something like that.” or, “I’ve always wanted to do a silent retreat.” I am simply not able to have this conversation. I don’t know anything.

Anyway, back to being the expert on Kripalu. For the second time since my return in as many weeks, I went to a yoga class called Kripalu Yoga. I still don’t know what Kripalu yoga is, but the time worked for me and I am coming to like how I feel when I go. Because she had just returned from there, the teacher was all Kripalu-giddy, a feeling I DO know, and she wanted to talk about it. Everyone nodded their heads to be nice but she soon realized they just wanted to get started.

After the class was over, I was chatting with my friend when the instructor and another lady were somehow in our conversation. Surprisingly, Kripalu came up. My friend pointed at me and said, “She’s been there.” I smiled and said, “Yes, I was just there a couple of weeks ago.” She got all excited again, so I had to burst her bubble before it got too big. “I didn’t do yoga though.” For an instant, she looked at me like I had three heads, but because she is in her joy to the world everyone is on their own journey peacefulness, she smiled, and I could see the question spread across her body. Going to Kripalu without doing yoga is like going to the grocery store and not buying groceries or going to the gas station and not getting gas.

“It’s a long story, but I didn’t realize what it was about.”

My friend rejoins the conversation, “But she came back and has been doing yoga ever since.” The consolation prize.

Clearly these folks were not within range of my husbands megaphone during the weekend I went to Kripalu. I explained, “I needed to get away and I learned of this writers conference and thats why I went. Why did I come back and start doing yoga? I don’t know really. The place gets into you. It’s hard to explain.”

The instructor nodded her head because she knew and the other lady was asking more questions, where is it, tell me more about it, is it spiritual, what is the yoga like. I looked in her eyes and knew she was looking for more, working on her journey and was looking everywhere for answers, even to me.

It reminded me of something I read last night. In Kyran Pittman’s Planting Dandelions, she was telling a story reminiscing of being young in the car in a rain storm with her parents. She was so relaxed, watching the drops on the window, and felt so safe with her parents, the implication being they knew everything and could handle this fine. Flash forward to when she was a parent driving with her kids in the car, white knuckled, shoulders hunched, scared to death. Just as she understood that her kids trusted her instinct and knowledge to keep them safe, she said suddenly you realize YOU DON’T KNOW SHIT.

This was her fear talking. She knew more than she knew. Her kids were safely buckled in and you have to assume they made it home fine because the story goes on.

And so our stories go on. We learn and grow and make changes in small steps. Even after taking just the first few steps, there are those behind us that are ready to start. We don’t give ourselves credit for what we know or what we have done. Just as there is much change going on in a cocoon before the emergence, we all have much going on in our thoughts and beings before we can take the first step. We find ourselves knowing more than some, and it surprises us.

“At the beginning, Lincoln was so inexperienced he had reverence for military expertise, not realizing that there wasn't any military expertise.”

David Herbert Donald, Hisorian

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Amateur Meditator

I don’t know how many times I have done yoga. Three in the last 10 days. Thats the most in a short span of time I have ever done. The other 20 or 30 times I have done it spread a span of about 10 years. On average then, 2 or 3 times a year since I started. For my life average, less than once a year.

I am even less experienced at conscious breathing and meditation. I have heard these words on and off through the years, with various reactions. If I am cocky and confident, I make fun of them. [Don’t lose the laughter.] When I have been in a more open place, I have tried them. Guided meditations that come in a cassette tape (yes it was long ago) with a blue sky dotted with calming white clouds. They have swooshing noises and a soft spoken lady that sounds like she has just smoked a bag.

And somewhere in one of these twice yearly yoga classes and cassette tapes, I have heard breath speak. Admittedly, it has helped me. But helped in supporting the mantra that we must always have laughter in our lives. Not in the way it was meant to be. Breathe into your stomach. Breathe in good karma, breathe out the negative. Think only of your breath and you will have life. I mean, seriously. I am so overloaded that why would I put all my concentration into something that will happen whether I think of it or not?

”To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.” ~Pema Chodrun

I read this quote in the comments section of Lindsey’s blog a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me. I am working on “getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic.”

One of the many nuggets Dani Shapiro offered at a Kripalu workshop was on meditation. She offered some simple affirmations that we should concentrate on while we were practicing our breathing. Since the workshop was on writing, I started to ask if I could have a partial refund, but, since I was in a safe, unfrenzied place, I thought I would give it a try.

I am always looking for an out, an escape. I always know where the closest exit is located. I was well positioned in the back of the room. I knew I could just pretend, disengage, or even get up to go to the bathroom if I became too uncomfortable. My flight response responded to the high alert. I guess I should disclose that this entire exercise was less than five minutes, and I was well aware of how long it would last before I started. Dani introduced the exercise in her calming but confident and unimpaired from substances voice. In other words, this was a perfectly rational , even inspirational person asking me to try this. FOR ABOUT FIVE MINUTES. Because I was feeling generous and open minded, I told myself I would try it for half the time. This is an insight into how resistant I was to trying the breathing/meditation thing again.

So, it was with these parameters and escapes in place that I attempted her meditation. She started with telling us to feel our connection, feel where our sits bone connected to the ground. Here was when I started to not like it. Yes, the first sentence. Most people were on the floor and I was in a chair so I already thought I was doing it wrong because I was not connected to the ground. I started thinking my butt was on the chair and the chair was connected to the ground by four legs. Foot bone connected to the ankle bone, Ankle bone connected to the leg bone. And my mind goes to the familiar children's song. So, hey, anyway, does this really count if I am not sitting on the ground?

But, I stuck with it. She said a few more calming words and then went to the phrases: May I be safe, May I live with ease, May I be happy, May I be strong. I could have these in the wrong order but in the spirit of meditation I’m not sure that matters.

I could not believe it when she offered an out before I even thought about stopping. She said, “If your mind starts to wander, then just come back to the phrase, or the breath, or whatever.” Again, I missed the details but I clung to the message I was hearing. You don’t have to be perfect, your mind will wander, everyone’s mind wanders. So you come back. Just like that. Try again.

And there it was. With that one little rule added, I could do it. This amendment to my definition of meditating changed the game. Two minutes? And I could start over as many times as I wanted without getting points taken off? This is definitely something my attention deficit, lack of focus mind can wrap itself around.

I have used this meditation a few times in the two weeks I have been home. Not for as long as I did there. I can’t do the whole five minutes yet without the support of someone leading it. And I haven’t done it sitting down focusing all my attention on it. Mostly I use it when I find myself getting mad or frustrated. I stop and take a deep breath. Then I recite the words to myself. Usually I am not even focusing on the words, but using the mantra of the words to calm my body down. Like one of the ritualistic prayers I learned growing up, like the Lord’s prayer or the Nicene Creed.

As I strive to make changes in my life, I look to those who have gone before me. Most of the time, this helps. Each person’s knowledge and experience can help push me along. But sometimes, I get so intimidated. I feel like I am so far behind. I feel so small around those so great. I start listening to the voice in my head that says you will never do that, be that, go there.

So, I want to record this time. This moment. I want to remember my courage in trying when I am far from being the expert, far away from any confidence, far away from being experienced. I am embracing the infancy of my new seed. It may or may not grow. It is working now.

Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness. I like this slightly different interpretation of the common quote.

"Even the longest journey must begin where you stand."

Thursday, May 12, 2011


When I read something (or hear something, but usually its by reading) that I absolutely and completely understand from the core of my being, several things happen.

While reading it, I don’t want it to end. I want to know what happens next. I want more. I am never satisfied. Sometimes I want to know the tiniest details about the situation or person - like what they had for breakfast, or what books are on their nightstand currently.

Many times, these are insights I have felt and known to be true (mostly about myself) but couldn’t express it; didn’t recognize it as a feeling. I felt like I was one step away from knowing this. And then I read it and I feel a huge sense of discovery.

Like when Lindsey writes about her bubble or when Dani writes about being an outsider.

And I am thankful for this person for putting it out there.

And I feel a little less lonely, weird, different.

And I am a little mad at myself for not knowing this - when it was right in front of my face.

And I am a little disappointed in myself because maybe, just maybe, I knew it but was too scared to put it out there.

And I am thankful, not only for the person writing it, but for who I am , for the fact that I get it. Like when Elizabeth Gilbert wrote on the act of writing, “This is a path for the courageous and faithful. You must find another reason to work, other than desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place.” I am immensely thankful that I have access to another place.

And I am gentle with myself, because perhaps if it would have come to me at a different time, I wouldn’t have heard it.

When I feel these connections to other people and the world itself, whether its joy or pain, alpha or omega, I sometimes pause in awe, knowing that these are truly magical moments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Remember

I remember when my Dad taught my brother to smoke.

I remember the house that I lived in when I learned that things are not always as they seem. I loved that house.

I remember playing cars and star wars guys for hours with my step brother.

I remember wanting to go to a movie with a friend, and not having a friend to go with.

I remember the excitement of my first trip to New Orleans.

I remember seeing Martina Navratilova play tennis.

I remember hastily grabbing all my belongings from my fathers house while he was at work. I knew I would never go there again.

I remember Susan’s last breath.

I remember the first time I met my husband; I don’t remember falling in love with him.

I remember the book mobile that came out once a week.

I remember the smell of the orange groves in central florida.

I remember Super Cat.

I remember when my Dad cried - when our dog died and when my grandmother died. He said he cried when my Grandfather died.

I remember her laugh.

I remember the warmth and safety I felt in her hugs, even as she got older.

I remember when my Mom bought me $50 Guess jeans, when she was strapped for money.

I remember the road trip to key west with my Mother.

I remember my mother sitting in the cardboard box and riding it down the stairs and how I laughed watching her.

I remember both of my first kisses.

I remember the first time i thought I needed to lose weight.

I remember when my first child was born.

I remember my first airplane ride.

I remember my godmother singing amazing grace at my grandfathers grave in the springtime. I felt like I was in a movie. I remember her brother singing Old Rugged Cross in the church.

I remember eating deer steak, pork belly skins, and frog legs and those things being normal.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting out of the Rut

Oh My. What is it with me? I am trying, trying and I do not know which way to go.

I am starting. It may not be the right path. But it is a path.

I am trusting. I have faith. These are good.

But I am far from there.

I may not be out of my rut; in fact, I know I am not out of my rut. But I am moving in it, attempting to get out.

Like a car that is stuck in mud or snow, you know you need to get out. First, you just press the gas. And then you do it a few more times. And then you realize you need something more than the gas and the accelerator in the car to get out. You may have to try a few things before you figure out how to get your car out.

In the snow, all it may take is a few handfuls of salt to help get your traction. And that may move you forward a bit, but then you are stuck again. You may try to put some boards or wood there to gain traction. Of course, you have used the shovel you keep in your car to keep moving snow from around the tires. Sometimes you may have to borrow a shovel because for some reason yours is not in your car - maybe because you have loaned it to someone else that was stuck.

Sometimes, you enlist help from friends or family. Sometimes that doesn’t work.

Sometimes, a stranger will stop and try to help. Once my neighbor came to try to help. He is from London and probably Minnesota Blizzards are not his specialty. I knew he wanted to help, but doubted he could. He went home and fetched a rope and we tied it from our other car to the Suburban that was trapped in the snowbank. The first try, the rope just came untied. Then we tightened the knots and made more knots and tried again. Then the rope broke. We were cold. I thanked him (I hope) and sent him home, saying I would call a tow. I did call a tow and he came with his big tow truck and tools and pulled me right out.

Sometimes we need others to pull us out. The next couple of winter days, I slid around on the slick streets for the unending winter conditions, until I slid into another snow bank. Others can, and often do, have to get us out. The sooner we let others in, the sooner we can be open to their service.

Just because you find yourself in a rut, and know you need to get out, it doesn’t always happen with the first, or second, or third try. Or the first or second or third tool you use. Does that mean that you leave your car there and quit trying? No. You keep trying. You keep plugging away. You try something else. You keep working hard and keep your eye on the prize.

I will get out of this rut.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Something has happened to me

Something has happened to me. I’m not sure when and I am not sure how. I trust. I have faith. I have asked for it, hoped for it, faked it. But in the past, when things got hard, they were harder than they needed to be.

I think my general coping mechanism is flight. Although some may not agree. If I have not always fled physically, which I often have, I flee mentally. I shut out the world, close up. I think of all the ways I don’t need whoever or whatever has caused me angst. How I can live without them. I started this early in life and still, sometimes, it is my first line of defense when I am hurt or scared.

I have had a trying few weeks, built upon a trying few months and even years. It will take a book to actually describe what has led to this grueling time, because it was nothing hard and fast like a divorce or unexpected death or a hurricane. The loss of self rarely has a defining moment; rather it is given up gradually.

But, just as I sit here looking at the snow out of the window on this second day of May, I know the summer is coming. Every single day last month, I kept thinking tomorrow will be better. Now I am not convinced it will be tomorrow, but I know for a fact that summer will be back.

Just as I know summer is coming, I know that I will get through this tough time. I don’t have to manage it or manipulate it. I don’t have to run away from it, or even build my mental wall around it. I may or may not have to work my way out of it. I am sitting with it and feeling it the best that I can.

“If we can stay awake
 when our lives are changing,
secrets will be revealed to us
—secrets about ourselves,
about the nature of life,
and about the eternal source
of happiness and peace
that is always available,
always renewable,
already within us.”

This is not comfortable or fun. Or in a moment to moment basis, particularly enlightening. In saving the energy that I usually use to run or protect, something is happening. I am finding some peace, and , perhaps a little direction.