Overfishing the Pond

| On Creativity

I made a yoga date, as we do.  When yoga instructors get together to connect, it usually takes place around a mat.  All the catching up happens post class over a cup of chai or a glass of wine.  So I made a yoga date with Olivia Kvitne.  I’d get my practice in, check out a LA yoga institution, Golden Bridge Yoga (why have I never been here?), and connect with lovely Olivia, a fellow LA YOGA Magazine staffer.

I showed up for class, present and ready, but not really expecting anything.  But Olivia is good.  Really good.  And at the first skull-shining breath, I was off.

You never really know what your practice is going to bring up until it’s smeared all over the mat below you: resentment, frustration, a broken heart…Or maybe it’s all beautiful, radiant joy.  Regardless, it oftentimes takes you completely by surprise.

So, right smack in the middle of my practice I found myself sitting face to face with my work week.  I’ve just begun a new job, which takes up most of my time.  I love it but the best part is that I don’t have to give up teaching yoga.  I cut my classes back a bit to accommodate my new schedule, thinking four per week would be manageable.  But this transition hasn’t been as smooth as I would have hoped.

The first clue that I’m over-extended: jealousy.  I find myself walking through a sea of students flowing through their vinyasas feeling jealous.  And it’s not just a passing thought, it’s an active longing for each posture, each glorious stretch.  I catch small details –a student’s finger pads pressing into the mat, a trickle of sweat trailing down a student’s bare back, the oceanic sound of breath all around me–and I feel jealous.  I want to experience all of those things too.  I demonstrate simple postures like, downward facing dog, and linger in silence, just a bit too long.  I don’t want to move; it’s too delicious.

It makes me want to stop teaching.  Usually, it’s a fleeting thought.  But it’s still there.

The thing is, I haven’t neglected my practice.  I still get in about three days a week.  But, what became obvious in Olivia’s class was that it’s not enough.

The crazier your schedule gets, the more yoga you need.  Trying to balance a work week with meetings, appointments, errands, favors, fun, and friends means more yoga.

When the first thing you want to cut out of your schedule is yoga, something is wrong.  Yoga is the last thing to get cut, says Oliva.  And I agree.

That class changed my whole trajectory.  I realized that before I consider letting go of any classes, I need to make sure that my choice is coming from a place of abundance, not a place of lack.

Olivia reminded me of an analogy Julia Cameron uses in her book, The Artist’s Way.  She says we have an inner well that we need to refill regularly:

This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond…If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked…  Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources.

My well is nearly dry and needs to be replenished.  So, on the mat in mid flow, I set an intention to fill myself with my practice.  After 30 or maybe even 40 days of yoga in a row, if I still feel the need to let go of a class or two or all of them, at least I’ll know that it is an informed choice not a choice made from exhaustion.

It’s an experiment.  And what better place to record my musings and lessons learned than here on this blog?  As I write this, I realize it’s a crazy experiment.  I may be setting myself up for failure, disappointment, frustration, deeper exhaustion.  Or I am be on to something really good.  Either way, I’m down for the adventure.

If you’ve ever challenged yourself to practice consistently for an extended period of time, I’d love to hear about it.  Please share your experience below.

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Four things I just learned about meditation

| On Living Well

While somewhat a newbie when it comes to meditation, I thought I understood the basic principles.  Did I still have something to learn?  Sure, I would have agreed to that.  But the basic principles were locked in.  Yep, I got it, thought I.  Meditation:  sit your tushy down, close your eyes, and empty your head.  Maybe a little pranayama.  Maybe a mantra.  But that’s about it.  Simple.

 

Do this everyday and enlightenment will come…someday…like, sometime before you die…right?

Well, sort of.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to study meditation with Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation expert and scholar.  And as it happens, I have a lot to learn about the subject.

Meditation is the new yoga.  It’s the new-agey thing that everyone wants to try. Little by little people are opening up to the idea, maybe even giving it a test run.

It’s a little less of a useless, hippie pastime since Dr. Oz began promoting the practice in his book, on national television, and during health conferences.  He declared that transcendental mediation effects and reduces mortality, heart disease, and stroke by 47%.  That got some folks to pay attention.  (Check out his lecture here.)

For a long time meditation was what I did at the beginning of yoga and then again at the end during savasana.  About six months ago I decided, without the guidance of a guru or an expert in the field that I would explore this thing called meditation a bit further.  I added it to my morning routine: wake up, go potty, scrape tongue, brush teeth, drink 8 ounces of water with lemon and cayenne pepper, then meditate.  I set my trusty iPhone timer for 15 minutes and then off I went.

Where?  I liked to imagine the White Cliffs of Dover.  I’ve never been there but they sound nice.

While I found it calming, it always seemed very serious.  It became part of a daily ritual that I did without much consideration.  It was, by no means, fun.  Goodness, no!  Peaceful, yes…well, only when my mind cooperated.  But fun?  No.  If I wanted to have fun, I’d practice cartwheels at the park.

An evening with Lorin Roche taught me that I’ve been a bit misguided on a few key points.  I learned that:

Meditation is informal.

It’s like meeting your best friend for a happy hour cocktail.  No pretense.  No need to prove anything.  Just you and yourself chilling out, connecting, and getting’ groovy on life.  As Dr. Roche puts it, “Meditation is being intimate with yourself.”  So, sit your tushy down, yes.  And then say, “Hello, Old Friend!”

Trying to “empty your head” is a waste of time.

I don’t know where this notion of clearing your mind of all thought came from but I held on to it like it was my rope to safety.  Actually, according to Dr. Roche all that chatter is your brain clearing away the clutter.  Kinda like organizing the stacks of paper on your desk.  Your brain needs to work though all that nonsense in order to get to the good stuff.  Dr. Roche guided our small group through meditation and yep, my brain tossed around all kinds of useless thoughts: Would Jeremy be landing at LAX on time?  Do we have enough cat food to get through tomorrow?  I have to call my mother back…  But after a few moments the chatter hushed.  It was still there but it was as if someone turned down the volume and my psyche could open up to what was significant at the moment.  I saw my brother, clear as day, someone I love dearly and very much look forward to reconnecting with in a month.  I was filled with joy, as if he was standing right in front of me with his arms open wide.  It was a beautiful moment but my brain had to clear the pathway before I could arrive there.  When I was done, all the thoughts that taunted me at the beginning were inconsequential.

No two meditation sessions are alike.

When the meditation newbie stumbles upon the magic stuff that is deeper meditation, the experience can be exhilarating, intoxicating, even addicting.  We want more.  We want it to happen again the very next time we sit down.  But while we may have similar experiences from time to time, each meditation is unique.  We can’t duplicate the time before.  That’s what makes it so exciting!  You never know what you’re going to get.  You’ll surprise yourself—perhaps, for the better.

Mediation is fun!

OK, maybe it’s not Space Mountain…but wait a minute, why can’t it be?  In a place where you can kick off your shoes, toast an old friend, and allow your subconscious to play a little bit, what else can be had but fun?  Sure, sometimes even with the dearest of friends the conversation can take a twisted turn but isn’t that just like life?  I’ll say it again—you never know what you’re going to get.  But without a doubt, we end up on the other side with more experience and just a tiny bit wiser.

And that makes the journey worth it every time.

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Having an Open Fist Policy with Money

| On Living Well

 

A Relationship with Money

 

When I was a young thing falling in love with boys and butterflies I learned a universal truth: The harder you try to catch them, the quicker they disappear.

I learned to play it cool and found that, like Snow White in the meadow, if I just sit still, smile and be myself, when I raise my hand chances are something lovely will land. Birds, butterflies, and men have all landed in my palm at one point or another. And my experience with these flighty creatures taught me universal truth number two:  Hold on too hard and you might kill it.

They are simple truths that I’ve come to accept regarding relationships. I’d say I’m pretty good at following them. It’s easy when you consider the messy alternative which always ends in tears.

So, I’ve kept an “open palm” policy with most of my relationships. The one exception: Money. Oh, Money and I have been a tumultuous couple for most of my adult life. We’ve eased into comfortable places in the past, enjoying each other’s company like an old married couple. Too much enjoyment and we find ourselves again in shambles. I then sit down with Money and have a nice long talk (moderated by our advisor, Mr. Bank Account), and we’ll agree to pretend that we are on solid ground once again. This works for a little while.

But…

As much as I try to tell myself that we’re doing just fine, it’s become painfully obvious that money and I are not in a healthy relationship. In fact, I’d say this union is more like Sid and Nancy than Snow & Prince Charming. Before Money and I end up in a shredded pile of blood and tears on the bedroom floor, I believe I need to step back and reevaluate the situation.

I think I’ve pinpointed the problem–my palm is not open when it comes to money. It’s a desperate fist clenched tight. Alright, I’ll say it: I’m stingy. Oh, I have generous moments (all too often it seems). Then when funds get low I begin to tighten my grip. I opt for conventional produce. I insist on separate checks. I convince myself that my own desk with a cup of Trader Joe’s brand green tea is much cozier than a sidewalk table with a pot of gourmet oolong at The Coffee Bar. *sigh*

Then ding-ding, I get a text alert from Chase Bank warning me that I’m approaching dangerous territory.  This is an unhealthy pattern that Money and I have fallen into.  And all this grasping to keep Money from flowing out of my wallet is not making me any richer.

It’s like the trick my uncle played on me when I was nine: promising me the five dollar bill dangling  between my pincher fingers if I caught it when he let go.  I never caught it and it seemed the harder I tried, the sillier I looked groping for the stupid five dollars as it slipped through the air to the ground.

I started thinking…what if I exchanged the tight fist approach I’ve adopted in regards to Money with the open palm policy I apply to all of my other relationships? Could Money and I find a way to thrive?

I don’t mean to throw Money away. Rather, it might look something like this:

Situation #1

Jeremy says, “How about going to Gorbals later for some sticky toffee pudding?”

Instead of shouting, “I’m broke,” irked that 1) he has money for sticky toffee pudding and 2) he doesn’t remember that I don’t eat sticky toffee pudding, I respond with, “Oooo, that sounds nice,” thankful for a free night to spend with my guy. “I’m low on funds right now but I can take care of the tip,” I add.

Situation #2

The programs director of a skid row mission asks if I could donate my time to teach yoga to homeless children and teens.

Instead of replying that I’d love to, thinking to myself that I can’t afford to teach anything for free and that I should search Craigslist for another teaching job to add to my already full schedule, I reply that I’d love to, feeling thankful for my beautiful home and full belly. Then I check my schedule for a few free hours to donate a month. I remind myself that Seva (selfless service) is an important part of Karma Yoga and smile feeling like a more well-rounded yogini.

Situation #3

My best friend asks me if I’d like to join her at The Hollywood Bowl to see Dolly Parton in concert.

Instead of complaining that I don’t have any money and feeling just a little bit jealous of the big fat public school teacher salary that allows her to skip off to The Hollywood Bowl whenever she wants, I say, “That sounds like fun!” happy that she thought of me to share such a fun evening with. I explain that I’m a little low on funds and suggest having a girl’s night in. “We can rent The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. You bring the wine, I’ll make fried okra.”

Holding on to Money with all of my might isn’t working. Money seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate. The tighter I hold on, the faster it goes.  It’s almost as if the act of worrying about Money actually scares it away. The law of attraction may have something to do with it.

Yes, I’ll need to sit down with Money and have a good, long talk. We’ll throw around words like budget and savings and sensible. It will be cathartic.

Maybe once Money and I find common ground we can move forward, taking our relationship to the next level. And maybe if I sit still, smile and be myself I’ll discover all the abundance I need nestled right in the palm of my hand.

 

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When bhakti yoga becomes a pain in the ass

| On Yoga

I like to bake.  And one of the best parts of baking is sharing the fruits of my labor.  I like–no love–to watch friends and family bite into a slice of pie or a cookie and make that face.  You know the look I’m talking about, that oh-my-f*cking-God-that-is-sooooo-good face.  They begin to chew in slow motion, close their eyes, and then inarticulate moans and yummy sounds replace conversation.

I love that.  That is what compels me to bake gluten-full desserts that I can’t even taste.  (Yes, Grandpa, that means you’re still getting blueberry pie for your birthday.)

So, in a gesture of appreciation  and pure bhakti (yoga of devotion or love) I decided to bake cookies for the cast of my boyfriend’s next theatrical production.  They work hard and, like many LA artists, they seldom get paid for their time and energy.  Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies are in order!  (I just discovered that I can’t digest oatmeal anymore.  Boo!  What to do with all of this oatmeal I just bought…)

And then I remembered that one of the cast members is a glutard, like me.  (Glutard is what Jeremy, my boyfriend, likes to call all of us who are digestively challenged in the gluten department.)  No matter.  I’ve been meaning to try out a new gluten-free vegan brownie recipe.  Brownies for Alexis and me.  Cookies for the cast.

I set out to spend just an hour or so of my day off baking before I’d be on to other adventures.  I made sure I had all of the ingredients I’d need and then I got started measuring and humming to myself, happy in my heart to create on a sunny Friday afternoon until–Crap!  The applesauce I needed for the brownies had developed a very colorful pink ooze.  Crappity crap!

OK, no problem.  Off I went to the market to get some more only grumbling slightly to myself.  After all, it was a lovely day in Downtown.  I found applesauce.  Of course, it was Motts and packed with high fructose corn syrup.  Um, no thank you.  Surely, I thought, they’ll have something suitable at the organic market across the street.  Nope.

Damn it!

I considered scrapping the whole idea but I’m really not a quitter by nature.  So I went home and made some applesauce.  Yep, that’s right, I decided to peel some apples and cook them only so I could mix them into my brownie batter.  And then I’d start the oatmeal cookies.

When I got home something strange began to happen.  I started moving around the kitchen at warp speed.  Bowls clanged and utencils banged as I threw them into the sink.  I wasn’t feeling so happy in my heart anymore.  On a subconscious level I understood that the afternoon was running away from me.  Time–oh precious time!–was slipping through my fingers.  Without being fully aware, I was grasping to gain back minutes of my day.

And as I whipped around the kitchen measuring and mixing and banging and clanging my heart rate soared until my conscious mind caught on to what was happening.

I’m guessing this has happened to many of us.  We want to support our loved ones or a cause and donate our time, energy or talent.  We want to show love and appreciation without any reward or even an expectation of thanks.  We want to practice bhakti yoga.  And yet, somewhere along the way the whole thing becomes a royal pain in the ass.  We end up feeling put out and whatever we’ve decided to give, we do begrudgingly.

When this happens, we need to reframe our thought process.  Bhakti yoga should never feel like a chore.  Did Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi (perfect examples of bhakti yogis) complain because there was freakin’ mold on the applesauce and now they wouldn’t have time to paint their fingernails?  No, I think not.

So, here it is:

Three Questions to Bring You Back to the Happy-in-My-Heart Feeling of Giving

1.  Why am I doing this?  It’s a simple question but it should bring you back to your original intentions.  For me the answer is usually love.  “I’m wearing this stupid bridesmaid dress because I love my friend…”  OK, maybe that’s not the best example but you get what I’m saying.

2.  What am I really sacrificing?  Chances are, not much.  Usually it’s just time.  Sometimes it’s money (but that’s usually nominal).  If you’re sacrificing something substantial like missing work or your grandma’s 80th birthday, well, that’s probably time to reconsider what you are doing.  Then again maybe it’s worth it.  Only you can weigh your devotion against the cost.  But reminding yourself and keeping it in perspective will bring you back to the true purpose of your bhakti.

3.  What would happen if I stopped?  Feeling like you would be letting others down turns the selfless art of bhakti yoga into an obligation.  When this happens it might be time to step away.  Bhakti is love for love’s sake.  It is something you do without anyone expecting of you.  Of course, from time to time we do favors for friends and family.  And there are plenty of tasks that need doing and we just don’t want to do them.  This is not to be confused with bhakti.  If you’re not doing anyone a favor or letting anyone down and you’ve lost that loving feeling, then step away.  No one will think less of you.  No one was expecting it.  You’re probably depleted and need to show yourself some love and kindness.  So, take care of you.  Paint your fingernails if you need to.  When you are all filled up and feeling whole again, bhakti it up!  And for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone of your unfulfilled intentions.  “I was going to _____ (fill in the blank) but…”  That just makes you look like an asshole.

I really do love baking and when I reframed my thought process, I realized there would be plenty of the afternoon left for me.  I continued baking and set about infusing my baked goods with love and devotion.  Once I tapped back into my original intention I slowed down and let myself enjoy the process.

And the brownies made with homemade applesauce?  They were just alright.  But hey, it’s the bhakti that counts, right?

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