04/17/2014 § Leave a comment
My second quarter at Sofia included a course called Ecopsychology. I wasn’t really certain what that meant when the course began. I’m coming to understand, however, how we’ve lost our connection to nature and through suffering that loss we’ve broken an important connection with our spirit and soul.
One of our assignments for the class was to design a small service project to take into the world. It didn’t have to be big or flashy or showy. Just something small to rebuild that lost connection.
I’d thought I’d share the first half of the assignment:
This class, Ecopsychology, got under my skin.
I’m certain it didn’t mean to, but it did. And now I have this whole new way of looking at the world around me.
It began innocently enough. I thought our readings and assignments were simply reminding me of those things I already knew. Things like the fact that somehow we’re all connected. Not just you and me. But all living things. We rely on one another. Our relationships are complex. Sometimes they are reciprocal, sometimes symbiotic. But that’s how the world rolls. We all give a little, take a little and somehow it all balances out. Or at least it should.
I know. I’m making this sound all too simple and Neil De Grasse Tyson could explain with far more eloquence but the truth is – the point I am trying to make – is that we are all in this together. And by ‘we’ I mean my best friend, my family, the plant on the top shelf of my bookcase, the tree outside my window, the blue sky above the tree, the squirrel dashing across the road (and narrowly missing the FedEx truck), the FedEx driver and Rigby. Rigby is the 9-month-old Portuguese Water Dog that I sometimes take care of. Even Rigby and his loveable puppy brain.
It’s just that the tree and the plant and the sky don’t know they’re part of this. The squirrel doesn’t know it, either. He’s too busy storing nuts for the winter. And Rigby? With his puppy brain? Clueless.
But those of us possessing what we would like to believe is higher cognitive function should know. We should know that we’re all in this together and that the ‘this’ I am writing about is in deep shit trouble.
And that’s what I mean when I say ‘this class got under my skin’.
It reminded me of things I already know, and then it reminded me that we have a responsibility to try to do something about it (at this point, if Rigby had a better command of the English language would cock his head to one side and whine, “Really?”)
Yes, Rigby. We do. And the ‘something’ we choose to do has to be more than hugging a few trees.
I’ll admit it. At first my service project was going to be just big enough to meet the requirement, but small enough to not occupy too much of my time. And, no, I’m not proud but I still believed my idea – to write a blog post about water conservation – was reasonable in light of my state’s severe drought conditions.
But given that my blog’s readership can be counted on two hands and a foot the idea of posting five hundred words on how to conserve water didn’t really seem to be an effective way to connect with my role as a human caregiver to the planet. Besides, writing a blog post wasn’t the interactive experience I was beginning to crave.
I wanted a service project that would last longer than the time it takes to post a blog. What could I do?
The answer came to me in the shower. (A very short shower with a water conserving showerhead.) My project would have three components:
1) A blog post about water conservation that can be read at Practically Twisted.
2) A concerted effort to walk my talk by using grey water from showering and dish washing to flush my toilet.
3) A second concerted effort to not just walk but to peddle my talk. By the beginning of next month I’ll be using a bicycle as my primary means of local transportation. (Truth-be-told I have an ulterior motive. Exercise! I’ve discovered there’s a direct link between the amount a person studies and an ever-widening backside. It’s time for an ass intervention!)
Like I said, this class got under my skin. In a very positive way. I’m already using grey water and the blog post will be up within a day or two. And I can’t wait to start riding a bike again.
This class and this project has taught me to take the time to consider my actions. I notice myself making different choices. I notice myself stepping back to breathe and to witness. And it feels good. It affirms not just my life but all life.
04/11/2014 § 2 Comments
I’ve been taught there is a Buddhist principle called ‘sadjoy’. I’m not a Buddhist and so I don’t know if it’s right for me to find meaning in it. But it’s that time, I think, when life cares for both qualities; it holds space for sorrow and elation. Of course we could say that life is always like that – a balance of the good and the bad, the happy and the miserable. But I believe there’s something special about sadjoy. I want to believe it holds qualities that lift the human experience from the mundane to the mystical.
And so my life this year has been filled with sadjoy.
The studio where I attended my first yoga class in 1984 and where I’ve taught since my return from Ireland almost ten years ago is shutting its doors at the end of June. That the studio is closing was not a shock; how I was left to hold the worry and grief of my students was. But we moved through it, together, and we found solutions and alternatives and change happens. It will be all right.
A beloved platonic friendship found a new way to exist. We loosened the binds that had protected us from the world for so long and made other plans. At first I floundered in the space where that friendship had been but change happens. It will be all right.
I thought I knew what this year would be. It would be an introvert’s dream: comfort in the isolation of work and school. And because I could see the road ahead so clearly I filled each day with work and school. Work and school. That’s all I planned on. All I anticipated.
But things change.
And I need some time and some space to consider these changes.
The sadness that arrived at the start of the year has mellowed like a long, deep sigh. It’s been replaced by a joy that is so bright and so wonderful I don’t want to miss a moment of it.
Because things change.
And so, I’m taking a little hiatus. It’s time for me to have some fun.
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.