02/19/2014 § Leave a comment
That’s what change can be. It can take our breath away with the most wonderful gasp of delight, or the breath can be caught tight in our chest, sharp and immovable.
My life has seen so much change in the past six weeks. The beginning of exciting new projects and sudden changes in circumstances that I didn’t expect.
Awe inspiring change can make us feel lighter than air. Awful change can make us feel leaden and stuck.
I prefer awe-inspiring change. Who doesn’t?
Here’s the thing – how we describe change depends on how we process the change. The story we write about it in our heads and our hearts. The peace or the violence we ascribe to it.
I’ve been thinking about this because of the labels I’ve been using to describe the changes in my life.
One of our assignments during our first month of training at Niroga Institute in Berkeley was to give some thought to Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the first of Patanjali’s Yamas – or moral codes. Ahimsa asks that we be compassionate. It asks us to walk a path free of violence.
What is violence? Is there ever a time when an act of violence can be justified?
This is what I wrote for my assignment:
Violence is a small thing.
It is a girl child running through the jungle, arms stretched out, mouth open in silent cry,
clothes seared from her body.
It is a small thing.
Violence is an act of war.
It is a jetliner ripping a skyscraper in half. It is men detonating the bombs they strap to their bodies. It is women being gang raped on the back of busses. Violence is the sting of a mother’s slap on her young son’s frozen cheek.
Non-violence begins when I remember that violence doesn’t ask for much.
Because violence is a small thing.
Violence begins when I wake to curse the haggard reflection staring back at me.
Violence ends when I wake and offer thanks for my humble life.
Violence begins when I whisper secrets that belong to someone else.
It ends when I sit in quiet contemplation.
Violence begins when I fill my eyes with gratuitous images.
It ends when I change the channel.
Violence. Non-violence. Ahimsa. Himsa.
Two sides of the same coin that we toss into the air without a second thought.
We can choose the side on which it lands.
02/17/2014 § 1 Comment
I’m like that kid in The Sixth Sense. Except instead of seeing dead people, I smell cigarette smoke. Now and again, even when the nearest smoldering cancer stick is miles away, I’ll feel the tease of a phantom, acrid odor. When I mentioned this to my doctor during a routine wellness exam last November he paused, looked up from his computer screen and said, “Really?”
And that’s how, a few weeks later, I ended up in the neurologist’s office on a Wednesday morning. The following week I had a brain scan. The week after that an EEG. Seven days later I returned to the neurologist’s office to find out if I had a brain tumor, epilepsy, chronic sinusitis or a rampant imagination.
The odds were on my overactive imagination. My guess – as a graduate of Princeton Plainsboro under the tutelage of Dr. Gregory House with eight years of further study at Seattle Grace – was that my odd symptoms were nothing more than my body’s way of responding to stress and the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. But what if I was wrong? There’s nothing like a slight brush with mortality to jar you from a rut and encourage a yogi to take a good, close look at her practice. When was the last time you stepped back for a moment to examine your yoga journey?
I sat in sukhasana for the first time in 1975. I was a 16-year-old junior at Northwestern Lehigh High School in rural Pennsylvania and my gym teacher Mrs. Carey was introducing the class to some weird alternative stuff from California she called yoga. My only goal in life at that time was to find my way to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. And so, while most of the other girls in class sat slumped and bored, giggly and gossiping, I sat still and closed my eyes. I knew, at that moment, that I had found my first real thing. A thing I loved. Yet it would be ten years before I sat in sukhasana again.
I finally made my way to the edge of the Pacific in 1980 to my first real yoga class in a real yoga studio in 1984. But it feels disingenuous to call the path I’ve walked the past three decades a ‘yoga journey’. If I’m going to be honest with myself it has been an ‘asana journey’. Asana. Asana. Asana. For years layers of tradition were ignored so that I could collect asanas the way some folks collect stamps. Why not? It was fun and my body was hungry for it. I knew it was there, waiting for me, but still I turned a blind eye to the beauty and gossamer depth of a rich yoga practice. I knew I was taking the scenic route but when at last I began to crave more I was so entrenched in the asana practice my lineage offered that I simply didn’t know where to begin.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying. I had all the right books. The Gita and the Upanishads, the Sutras and the Pradipika. They sat right next to Light on Yoga, a book that for years I carried with me as though it were the Holy Grail. I was earnest and eager but on reflection it’s clear. I wasn’t ready for the truth yoga teaches. I wasn’t ready for the wisdom.
Over the past five years, however, my intentions and thus my practice have changed. I work harder to open my heart and my spirit than I do to open my hips. My asana practice is still strong but my living practice – how I walk in the world – is stronger. I am no longer a student of asana. I am a student of yoga. So. Did my yoga practice prepare me for potential change? Was I worried? I am grateful that over the past five years I have moved toward a deep and authentic practice. I’m grateful that it has built a wonderful foundation for me when circumstances change and challenges arise. Yet despite my practice there was a certain and constant low-grade anxiety with one deeply felt crying jag. But I practice yoga. I know hot to breathe. I know how to remain present. I know how to still my mind and how to move away from the storied chatter. But that’s what I was doing. I was writing a story. I had no idea what news my doctor was going to present me and yet I chose to write a story about a fate I could not predict.
At the end of the day, I’ll live to smell another day. All my tests were negative. My doctor isn’t quite ready to blame my rampant imagination. There’s a possibility of simple focal seizures, which sound more serious than they should. But all’s well. I have a fully functioning brain. And I have an awesome yoga practice.
Different versions of this essay have appeared in Indian Currents and Yoga Living Magazine.
I am very grateful to both publications for supporting my work.
02/03/2014 § 2 Comments
I left home for five days at the last week of January to attend a closing seminar that celebrated the end of my first year in the master’s program at ITP/Sofia and the beginning of my second. I left home believing in one version of me, and returned embracing another.
One of the irritations of being a student of ITP/Sofia is having friends not affiliated with the school ask you (in some cases, repeatedly) So, Mimm, what is it exactly you’ll be able to do with this when you’re done?
How should I know? The school, after all, is decidedly left-of-center. Physically little more than two industrial sized single-story buildings in a doublewide parking lot, in truth the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) is filled with individuals who have chosen to study the spiritual heart of the psyche. I’ve met young PhD candidates leaning toward a career in research and Pagans in the master’s program destined for academia. I know graduates who a decade later continue to quietly counsel clients struggling to make sense of their lives and shiny new students walking a path deeply entrenched in the search for a higher consciousness. Somehow they’ve found ITP/Sofia but even here, they stand out in their choice to initiate a journey leading them further from the mainstream.
When I enrolled, my only intention was to find a course of study that would deepen my practice. And when I chose my second-year specialization, Transformation Life Coaching, I wanted a practical translation of my deepening practice that I could take out into the world. I wanted to choose a reasonable course. A safe journey. Something that might lead to a comfortable retirement plan.
I should have known better. Right or wrong, I’ve never considered a comfortable retirement plan a high priority even though the thought of not having one can, from time to time, induce a pulse quickening panic attack.
It was Day Three of the seminar when I stood in line for a cup of green tea and felt it coming on. There was a quivering around my heart. Change is something I like to ease into. I prefer a slow graceful curve to a hairpin turn. What I was beginning to feel in my heart was neither slow nor graceful. I took my mug into the assembly room and sat by John. John has been a long distance anchor and older brother to me this past year. John, I said, I chose the wrong specialization. And I already bought all the textbooks.
John didn’t hesitate.
Mimm, he shrugged and said, everyone needs more books.
It was as simple as that. Spending a little extra money (even money that I don’t have) on a few more books is better than being tied to a specialization that was chosen simply so that I could answer the question everyone but me needed an answer to: What is it you’ll be able to do when all this is done?
We’re heard it before. That we’re to follow our bliss and let our heart sing. It sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? So easy. But of course anyone who has committed to a life melody based on the song in their heart knows that, in truth, this journey, like all journeys, has moments of difficulty. Along the way we’re going to hit a few bum notes.
The difficulties we face, however, on a journey that begins from the heart, seem easier somehow. They feel less like psychic tsunamis and more like rogue waves. The difficulties we face on journeys begun from the heart are more easily navigated.
It was not my intention to be a full-time student at fifty-five. But here I am. And it feels good. I know I’m not alone on this road and I know I haven’t made the most practical choice. But I’m all right with that. My new specialization is Spiritual Psychology.
You’re probably wondering, what will she be able to do with that when she’s done?
Watch this space.
01/12/2014 § Leave a comment
Yes, I can see you shaking your heads mournfully and yes, I can even hear a few “tsk tsk’s” and YES, over the past ten days I have realized that setting a course of good intentions is really no different than writing a list of resolutions. And, no, it doesn’t shame me to admit that I have been duped by my very own linguistic chicanery. Am I the only one who has fumbled and fallen? No. I am not.
But I should know by now that racing into any new year with my heart and mind overflowing with promises of change that can’t possibly be kept is a bit like giving me carte blanche at a buffet table. In the same way that I have difficulty controlling my feast or famine impulses when food is involved, it’s challenging at best for me to display any sense of restraint when I begin to write the list of goals I convince myself I need to achieve in order to be the new and improved Mimm OSx55.
We were only nine days into this new year when the unraveling began. The ‘new’ Mimm – the Mimm who rises each morning an hour early to write; the Mimm who keeps a clean diet and has a morning routine that would make the most experienced Ayurveda devotee proud; the Mimm whose asana and meditation practice takes Surya Namaskar to great heights – that new Mimm was frayed and fading fast.
I couldn’t decide which felt worse – knowing I would never be able to sustain the pace I had set for myself (I forgot to mention the neurobiology course that I was enrolled in. Note the past tense.) or knowing that, yet again, I had fooled myself into setting those pesky resolutions in the first place.
But here’s the proof that maybe – just maybe – I’m learning. Yes, I had a minor meltdown and no it didn’t feel great. I wallowed around for an hour or so and then stepped back and took a good look at what I had done.
In my push to be a different version of who I am I’d forgotten that this version really isn’t so bad. While it’s true I struggle with envy, I suck at math and I’ve gained back half of the twenty pounds I lost last summer – I also have some admirable redeeming features. For one – I’m plucky. I have no doubt whatsoever that Chumbawumba wrote the chorus of Tubthumping with me in mind.
And so, embracing my inner pluckiness I asked myself this:
“What is the one best thing I could add to my life this year that would make my spirit sing?”
Just one best thing.
I know my answer but I’m not telling.
And now I’m asking you:
What is your one best thing?
12/28/2013 § Leave a comment
I didn’t see that one coming. Looking back over my posts and reading what I was up to twelve months ago I discovered that I failed to write a final farewell to 2012. Not only that, but my last entry for the year espoused the benefits of eating meat.
Really? Seriously. Did not see that one coming.
It just goes to show you. Things change.
Three months later I wrote about my life as the accidental vegan.
By autumn I was a happy vegetarian 98% of the time. And that’s where I’ve settled. For now.
Like I said. Things change.
The year we say goodbye to this week is the year I began graduate school. Graduate school is challenging and I yearn for the day that I will once again read for pleasure. But I love it. It’s the year Samyama Yoga Center opened. Teaching at Samyama has changed my practice. Teaching there encourages me to try harder. To be better.
And yet, this was the year I gained and lost twenty pounds. It was the year I broke promises to myself, made new ones to replace the ones I allowed to slide and then broke those promises, too. I didn’t break every promise. But I broke enough of them to notice.
This was, then, the year I tried too hard and didn’t try hard enough. It was the year I found out I can juggle an amazing amount of metaphorical balls and it was the year I found out that sometimes when you drop a few of those balls the world keeps spinning.
In these twelve months I directed a fundraiser and produced a book. I raised money for two local charities. I didn’t do it alone and the process taught me important lessons about community and coöperation.
But at the end of the day, 2013 was a year like any other year. It brought joy and sadness. Excitement and disappointment. Hope and worry. I was fiercely loyal to friends and sometimes mean to acquaintances. I discovered my sense of humor was, on occasion, less funny and more hurtful. But I also discovered that I have a deep well of compassion.
I believe that in a decade’s time when I look back on this year I will say that 2013 was the year I finally had a clear vision of the woman I am meant to be (better late than never). I will say that it was the year I found the path that led me to her and that it was the year I realized it was the path I’d been walking on all along.
Many blessing to you all for a wondrous 2014.
12/21/2013 § 1 Comment
Over the next two weeks, when I’m not teaching, I’ll be retreating to my Mimm Cave. I’ll be doing all those things I didn’t have time to do during the previous fifty weeks: reading for leisure, playing my guitar, waking up my creative side. I love the Mimm Cave.
But I love to teach, too! Here’s my schedule for the rest of the year:
Saturday 21 & 28 December
4:00 – 5:30 PM Samyama Yoga Center
Monday 23 & 30 December
7:30 – 9:00 PM California Yoga Center, Yin (donation based)
Tuesday 24 & 31 December
9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center
(Samyama Yoga Studio closed both days)
Thursday 26 December & 2 January
7:00 – 8:15 AM Samyama Yoga Center
9:30 – 11:00 AM Samyama Yoga Center (subbing for Hillary Easom on January 2nd only)
Friday 27 December & 3 January
9:00 – 10:00 AM California Yoga Center
1:30- 2:45 PM Samyama Yoga Center, Yin