05/14/2013 § Leave a Comment
I promised myself Hawk Mountain when I forced myself to book my airline tickets. I was going back to Breinigsville to visit my mother for a week in spring.
She didn’t like the idea of my going to the mountain. She felt slighted. A bit abandoned.
But if I was being inconsiderate, I didn’t care. I had to give myself a few short hours to visit a place I loved as a girl, when I was desperate to find a refuge from a violent home. Hawk Mountain spoke to my heart decades ago when I was a child. All these years later I still long for its beauty. To deny my heart time on the mountain would have broken it.
The place I love is part of the Appalachian Trail in eastern Pennsylvania. Opened as a bird sanctuary in 1934, its trails skirt the edge of the Blue Ridge and are situated beneath a major migratory path for raptors and other soaring winged wonders.
The climb to North Lookout was easier than I remembered. The trail was wide and clean with rough-hewn benches every hundred yards or so. The limestone outcrop my high school friends and I huddled beneath on chilly Saturdays during our senior year was now fenced off and deemed too dangerous to climb. Stairs to the lookout helped those who could not manage the boulders I scrambled over at sixteen. But the view from the lookout was untouched and stretched in front of me as it had for generations I could follow the course of the Schuylkill River and the train tracks from Kempton. I could see Bake Oven Knob in the distance and below me the bare plowed earth.
I climbed the rocks and searched the skies. I breathed the late spring air made damp by rain clouds moving in from the next town over. I crawled beneath boulders to photograph the stalks and spores of spawning green moss and then knelt next to the grey lichen clinging to glacial debris ten thousand years old.
During my morning on the mountain I opened to the space around me. I pushed against the wind and felt the wind push back. I stretched into the sky and curled under rocks. Hard granite pressed against my bones and when the sky finally opened the rain washed my skin.
There was new life on that mountain. The new growth of a warm spring. I was new life on that mountain, too. I returned home to visit a mother I don’t know, to learn about a family who are strangers to me. On that grey morning, the morning I gave to myself as a gift, I listened to what the mountain had to teach me about memories and moving on.
And as I drove away from Hawk Mountain through the slashing rain, I knew I was ready at last to hear the stories my mother needed to tell.
As part of an assignment for the class Psychology of the Body, I was asked to write about my relationship with the land. We all have a landscape we hold in our soul. A place we love and return to if not with our bodies then in spirit. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to walk Hawk Mountain once again.
05/12/2013 § Leave a Comment
Saturday afternoon proved interesting. I suppose it began with a FB post I read from a well-known local teacher. He was thrilled that his morning class had them hanging from the ceiling. That’s cool. We all love a full class. But as I scrolled through the comments to read what students were saying one comment caught my eye: “great play list.”
My reaction was visceral. My teeth clenched and my eyebrows furrowed.Damn. When did yoga teachers become dj’s?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling overworked and overextended which means I’m also feeling vulnerable. And so such things – like a great playlist being the reason why a yoga class is full – has me doubting myself.
My unwarranted self-doubt nevertheless has an impact. It pokes at my confidence and makes me question how I teach and even why I teach.
Taking a jab at my confidence doesn’t feel so wonderful. But questioning why and how I teach? That’s a good thing. We should always question our teaching. And we should always teach our truth.
I’m not averse to using music in class. In fact, at Samyama, where the sound system is so gorgeous it’s almost a sin to not use music, I play a mix of Tibetan bells, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno. It’s airy but not new-agey and I keep the volume at about the level of sun-dried laundry – not ear bleeding heady perfume.
Our lives are bombarded by sensory stimuli. During my practice, and while I teach, I want to remove the distractions. I want to connect with my body. I want to feel the asana in me. I want to breathe into it, and I want the rhythm of my breath to connect with the expansion and contraction of my body’s tide. I want to breathe with my muscles, my bones, my fascia. I want to feel the course of cerebral spinal fluid from my crown to my root.
I can’t do that if I’m grooving to Roxy Music.
But I doubted all this yesterday. I spent two hours making a play list. And it was a good play list. Maybe even a great one. Until I accidentally deleted it while attempting to download it to my iPod.
I took that as a sign that the Universe supports my truth. A friend suggested it was a sign I should learn how to use my iPod. The point is, my truth may not be your truth. And it may not always be my truth.
But for now it is.
And so, until further notice, my classes will continue to be silent, slow and focused.
And when we leave the studio to plug back into the world, we won’t be talking about play lists. I hope we won’t be talking much at all because we’ll still be taking in the silence and the wonder of feeling our bodies and our breath connected.
05/11/2013 § 1 Comment
This morning, for the first time in six weeks, I took an hour’s walk at Shoreline. Everything is different. The colors, the sounds, the temperature. I saw a young Avocet – still fuzzy and tentative and brand new to the world – take a walk on the mudflats while its protective parents kept guard. And I saw five scarlet winged blackbirds. As they landed on the spring green bushes the flash of red from the underside of their extended wings startled my eyes.
Shoreline was warm and wonderful and it felt brand new.
This morning, for the first time in six weeks, I looked at this blog and knew it was time to post. I was away for a while, attending to other parts of my life. Now I’m back, everything is different, and I don’t know where to begin my story.
Maybe with this question:
How do you inhabit your body?
And this one:
Where does intuition rest?
03/30/2013 § 4 Comments
Remember this post? The one where I proclaimed that my omnivorous ways did not make me a bad person? How times have changed. Turns out I’m a very fickle woman.
Eating meat worked well for me during the winter months. A nice stew of vegetables and grass-fed beef on a cold day warmed my bones and blood. But at the time I was sharing most of my meals with a friend. It was easier to prepare one meal, and even if I’d wanted to I knew I didn’t have the discipline to say “no” to bacon on a Sunday morning. So I was an omnivore. And I loved it. What I noticed, however, was that when I was on my own the foods I craved were foods that hadn’t been born. They didn’t have a face and they didn’t have a mother. They were grown from the earth.
When spring arrived our schedules changed and my friend and I had to say goodbye to the beautiful tradition of breaking bread together. I miss sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a ritual good for the soul. I miss the conversation and the laughter and I even miss cleaning away the dishes.
But I don’t miss the meat. Or the eggs. Or the dairy…except for the feta cheese I used to add to my kale salad.
I remember attempting a vegan diet about six years ago. I don’t think I lasted two weeks.
But I’m a different person now, and being a vegan wasn’t really something I thought I was moving towards. It just sort of snuck up on me. First I let go of the meat. The eggs came next – that was easy. The goat milk was more difficult because I love it warmed with honey before bed and I love milk in my coffee. But I did it. Last was the feta cheese.
So here I am. My favorite meal these days is a bowl of steamed veg with a spicy tahini sauce. Go figure.
How long will this last? Who knows. That’s the thing. I’m not really putting any pressure on myself to eat any one way or be any one thing.
I have to say, though, that this time it feels different. My first challenge arrived yesterday when the staff and teachers of Samyama had a dim sum celebration with owner John Berg at Ming’s. I passed the challenge. The next big test will be in two weeks when I fly home to Pennsylvania for my mother’s 80th birthday. I don’t know how to break it to her that I really don’t want pork chops fried in butter and mock seafood salad in mayonnaise.
I think sometimes you have to choose your battles. Besides, you just can’t argue with an eighty-year-old woman with a cigar in one hand and a slab of raw pig hanging from a fork in the other. Sigh.
Wish me luck.
03/09/2013 § 7 Comments
I didn’t expect to be directing my professor and fellow cohorts to Practically Twisted in order to view my version of our final assignment. But the truth is the file was too for Angel. And that was after I’d removed some of the images! So here I am, posting my spiritual autobiography on WordPress for the whole world to see. No matter. It was a challenging and thought provoking project. And I can’t wait to see yours.
Spiritual Autobiography: A Collection of Reliquaries
I’ve always been fascinated by reliquaries. From Oliver Plunkett’s head to Saint Valentine’s heart or threads from the Shroud of Turin reliquaries inspire mystery, hope and story. Religious reliquaries are potent objects. Viewing the remains of a seer or saint housed in ornate, gold, gilt and jeweled boxes fosters deeper faith and humility. Reliquaries are spiritual magic.
I believe we can each build our own reliquaries. These objects and images mark the turning of a page. They mark a spiritual death and subsequent rebirth. William Bridges might suggest that they occupy the Neutral Ground and their creation is a necessary part of transformation. We instinctively collect and hold sacred a bird’s feather found at the funeral of a friend, a dried rose bud from a former lover or even a Chinese fortune we want so much to believe. In their own way, They are all reliquaries.
I knew it would be difficult to put into words the spiritual path I have walked. I knew my journey had to be described with images and objects. Choosing a visual medium allowed me to reinterpret the form and tradition of the reliquary. It allowed me to infuse and inform my story with color, texture and shape. As a child I pushed myself toward a religious practice. I wanted to be the good girl. Later I leaned into spirituality as a balm and prayed it wasn’t a placebo. But the journey was difficult. I didn’t have the strength to hold my practice and abandoned all belief. Walking through life surrounded by the fog of nonchalance did not serve me. I was aware of something missing, a lack of authenticity. I felt empty. But fogs clear. Even mine. I felt something in me shift about fifteen years ago. I’ve been looking and feeling and exploring ever since.
At first, when my first, new steps were still very tentative, I looked for labels. I looked for words that might describe the walk I am on. But how I’m moving through life these days – how my body, my heart and my soul are charging down this new road – it has no name. No label.
In this work I’ve tried to create reliquaries that mark an event on this journey. The details are unimportant. What is mourned or celebrated in each piece is a single moment of awareness. They each mark a change in trajectory. A shift in perspective.
There are six in all: Ashes from a Lost Heart, Suppose a Wound is Received, I Don’t Remember That at All, The Heart is a Fragile Vessel, Sweets and Snacks and Truth. A brief description of the work and a short paragraph describing where I was on my journey accompanies the images.
Ashes from a Lost Heart,2.5 x 3.5 inches, plastic box, gold leaf, oil pastel, text,silicon grid, ash and twine.
Sometimes I don’t know what happened to me. I don’t understand how I came to be lost. How my heart came to be so bound. This first reliquary represents the bound heart. My journey begins with my futile attempts to break down the barricade around my heart. Sometimes events liberate our hearts.
Sometimes they add another brick to the wall around it.
Suppose a Wound is Received, What Happens?, 3.5 x 7 x 3 inches, found box, vintage text & images, wax and found object
This is my wound. I lived in an unstable and abusive environment filled with secrets and lies, inappropriate sexual relationships and violence. This reliquary is a box. Because that is what we do sometimes. We put our wounds in a box and close the lid.
We hope that if we keep them tucked away everything will be all right. We become the Good Girl and look to God for all our wishes to come true.
I Don’t Remember That at All, 5.75 x 5.75 x 3 inches, found box, compass, plastic optical dome, distressed mirror,text.
I struggled to find my way in the world. I moved from Pennsylvania to a year-long marriage in Nebraska to the sunshine of California and then to Ireland. During that time I floated between Catholic Mass, Christian prayer vigils, the one-ness of Bahaullah, the silence of the Quakers and the nothingness of atheism. I was looking for direction. A place to be not only in the world, but a place to be in my heart.
The Heart is a Fragile Vessel 6 x 8 x 2 inches, tin box,vintage text,distressed plexiglas, jujube candies, jaw breaker candies, acrylic paint, bubble wrap.
There is a point where I realized I had to treat my heart with more kindness. More love. Because the heart is fragile. I backed away from my flirting with various faiths and settled into a period of practicing yoga and quiet contemplation with no particular direction or outcome in mind.
Sweets and Snacks wire coat hanger, plastic tubes, twine, twigs, plastic bag, found objects, frictionless beads
This penultimate reliquary shows the primary faiths and philosophies I have explored. The last, unlabeled tube explains where I am now: at a place that requires no name and with the tentative understanding that maybe it really is all right to pick and choose. Maybe our spiritual journey is a like a buffet. Maybe it really is all right to choose a mixed bag of heart and meaning, even if our choices have no rhyme or reason. There is, after all, no one truth. There are many truths.
Truth, 2.5 x 3.5 inches, plastic box, gold leaf, acrylic paint, text (Rumi)
And so, well into the second half of my life, my heart has finally taken flight.
Accepting of the wounds received so long ago and no longer constrained by the rules of religion I feel free to find my truth where I see it.
The Rumi verse in this piece is one of my favorites and seems an appropriate closure.
”You are, in truth, the soul of the soul of the soul.”
02/07/2013 § 3 Comments
One of the best things about my Spiritual Perspectives class are the projects we’re asked to complete. For example, on Tuesday I enjoyed a three-hour walk as a meditation on the idea of ‘journey’. Today I began work on my spiritual autobiography. This project can take any form: song, essay, collage. We were asked simply to be authentic and inspired. I’m using the idea of reliquaries. I’m selecting one or two events from each decade of my life and creating an assemblage from found materials, text and photographs. The project is immensely challenging but creatively refreshing. Thinking in terms of symbols and images instead of words is a tonic for my brain.
It’s easy to look back on life and list by rote, “This happened and then that happened.” The challenge is to look back on life, remember the difficult moments and remember the astounding moments, too. And then contemplate how those moments transformed the spirit. Contemplate how those moments made you a better person. I’ve had so many stops and starts on the path – from a “Jesus-freak” in the 1970′s to a wannabe-atheist in the 1990′s. But in the past few years I’ve learned the lesson that so many of us have: that religion and spirituality are two very different things. I’ve learned that our journeys are intensely personal. I’ve learned that there is no one true path and that it’s all right to wander off the trail a bit from time to time.
I thought I’d share a bit of my essay about the walk I took on Tuesday.
The wonderful thing about walking is that the rhythm of the foot falls become like a meditation. The chatter in the mind stops and the head suddenly has room to consider new ways of seeing. That happened to me around the two-hour mark. I remembered that, unlike all my other walks, this walk was different. This walk was not about non-stop movement. It was about a journey. A journey’s pace ebbs and flows, just like the tide. It slows down and it speeds up. Sometimes it even stops. And that’s what I did.
I stopped. Pedometer be damned I stopped right where I was. I looked across the water. I examined the banked earth for signs of burrowing owls. My eyes followed the small hawk who took off from the grass in front of me clutching her rodent lunch. And I took photographs of the bloated grey clouds blustering over the East Bay hills.
And nothing bad happened.
On our journey it’s fine to stop from time to time. To take it in. To witness from a fresh perspective. Today I was a witness.