Monday, January 25, 2021

Distance

 For this "D" post, my first thought was "Ducks," because the flock of Whistling Ducks that makes its home on our little pond has entertained and kept us company throughout the pandemic. 

But even though the ducks are delightful, I landed on the word "distance" instead.

For almost a year now, we have been asked to keep our distance from each other. The last time I taught a yoga class in the studio with students present was on Thursday, March 19, 2020. A week later, on the 25th, I taught my first online class from the studio, with no students in the room. Soon after, I began teaching my classes online from home, and that's how it has been ever since.

This is a photo of me ending the last class I taught at the studio on April 2, 2020 - online and alone, except for the owner, Jennifer, out of sight, at a distance, and Anna out at the front desk.



April 2, 2020

At first, our hearts were very tender, as we worried about the future of our studio and our yoga sangha. I had tears when we greeted each other at the start of class - tiny faces on a computer screen, connecting from a distance. And again, at the end, when we said goodby. Overnight, so much had changed. We were suddenly dispersed, each to our homes, many hundreds, even thousands, of miles apart.

But then, some interesting things happened. We continued to show up in front of our computers to teach, and students continued to show up in front of theirs to practice. Snowbirds, who normally would not have been with us in summer, came to our online classes - many every day, often more than once a day. 

One student took classes from Taiwan - when she came to my 7pm ET Restorative class, for her, the next day was dawning on the other side of the world. 

My dear friend, Deirdre, over in Bath, England, whom I haven't seen in person since 2012, made it to class too, despite some technology challenges on both our ends.

With the passage of a bit of time, many of us discovered that we very much enjoy taking classes from the comfort of our homes! I joked that I used to have to be at the studio, all fixed up and ready to go by 9:15 for my 10 a.m. class, but in the new situation, I could have wet hair and still be in jammies at 9:15, but all ready to teach by 9:45. 

My sister in Massachusetts took my class all summer. I called her immediately after each one, because, for once, we knew we'd be available, with time to talk! We live at a distance, but we have never talked as often or felt closer. 

I've talked with my brother more often too, and "seen" several dear friends more often via Zoom than I would see them in person in any given year.

The word distance is a constant drumbeat now with our reference to social-distancing. Being at a distance is hard, even heart-wrenching, for many who long to be in the physical presence of loved ones. But thank heavens for the internet and Zoom and all the other platforms that have allowed us to be together, to see each other's faces and hear each other's voices. 

I do miss being with friends, family, students, and my fellow teachers. But I do not feel now, that there is "distance" between us. In many ways, distance has brought us closer. When we talk, it is without distraction or the time constraint that comes from busy-ness. We listen better, interrupt less, and are much more present with each other from a distance than in person, and that is an interesting thing to think about as the world, does, eventually re-open.

Now, even though distance became the topic for my post, our ducks really are entertaining, so here is a short clip of ducks doing their duck thing on our pond.





Monday, January 18, 2021

Close In

There were SO many possibilities for my "C" post - go ahead, close your eyes for ten seconds and invite in all the C words that come to you - I'll wager there are a slew of them, right there top of mind.

But I went in a different direction. Please read the words, close in, as meaning in close proximity to, rather than meaning confinement, as in the walls are closing in

The thought behind the words comes from a David Whyte poem, Start Close In, which was also the title and theme of his most recent webinar series. These are the first lines of the poem:

Start close in,

don't take the second step

or the third,

start with the first

thing

close in,

the step you don't want to take.

This is the sixth series I've taken with Whtye since last March. Through each phase of the pandemic, he has guided us through our evolving feelings about the situation, and invited us to explore who we want to be and how we want to engage with the world as we gradually re-emerge on the other side. 

There are several invitations made to us in the whole of the poem, Start Close In, (which can be found in his book River Flow):

  • Look, not ahead to an end goal, or even to stops along an imagined path, but at the ground beneath your own feet, right here, right now.
  • Stop listening to other people's voices, and stop letting them, as he so beautifully puts it, "smother something simple."
  • Start asking your own questions and listening to your own inner voice.
  • Take one small step; the first step toward creating a path that is truly your own.
  • Don't leap or skip ahead, don't rush, start close in.

The last line from the excerpt above, the one you don't want to take, is the kicker.

What is it, that first small step you (I) don't want to take?

Is it a conversation that needs having? A choice or decision that needs making but you haven't, because it's easier not to? A letting-go? Of what? A letting in? Of what? A resolve? An admission - to yourself, or to another?

I'm not sure at the moment, what is, for me, the step I don't want to take. So I'm letting the question hang in the atmosphere around me, waiting, watching, listening, for the sound of a voice close in, my own inner voice, to answer.




Monday, January 11, 2021

Breathe

Sometimes it seems like the purpose of focusing on the breath in meditation can be misunderstood to mean that we are trying to "breathe our troubles away;" that we can bring our minds to stillness and deflect emotions if we can just breathe it all away.

Perhaps, like me over this past week, you wish you could do just that. But we can't. And we shouldn't try. Instead of thinking of it as trying to breath discomfort away, think of it as breathing our way through discomfort.

When worrying thoughts and uncomfortable emotions arise, we typically do one of these two things:

  •     Push them away
  •     Get caught up in the stories behind them

Neither of those helps. Thoughts and their accompanying emotions need to flow through us in order to move on. What we can try instead, is something in between. When those thoughts and feelings arise, we can let our minds consciously recognize them: Oh, sadness. Oh, fear. Oh anger.

Then, we can say to ourselves, "Okay, I'll take three breaths with anger." 

For any feeling to move on, we have to avoid getting caught up in the story behind it - the why I'm angry, or what that person did to make me feel this way.... So, just, anger and three breaths. Then let the word go, and focus on your breath again. Maybe the anger is still strong, maybe it's a little less intense. Notice if there is any difference. 

This process can repeat many, many times during a meditation. Or, one emotion may be replaced with another - anger might morph into sadness. Same thing: "Okay, three breaths with sadness." No story, just the breaths. 

Maybe you'll need five breaths. 

There might be tears. Tears of anger, frustration, sadness. 

If so, you are in good company. Tears are a letting go of their own kind. Tears of relief. Tears of release. Tears are one way the mind and body unite in the healing process.

So, how do you go about this practice? Read through the steps below first, and then give it a try:

Sit comfortably.


Rest your hands on your belly (this is comforting) or your legs (this is grounding).


Lower your gaze and relax your eyes. Close your eyes if that doesn't make you uncomfortable - it's okay to keep them open, but gaze downward.


Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth with a sigh. Do that twice more.


Let your breath settle into its natural rythym and simply try to keep your awareness with it.


Your mind will try to wander off. No problem - just come back to your breath and start over.


When distracting thoughts arise, notice what they are. If emotions arise, see if you can name what the feeling is - frustration? anguish? disappointment?


Mentally say, "Okay, three breaths with ......"


Feel those three breaths fully. 


If you need to, take three more breaths with it.


Come back to simply observing your breath.


As new thoughts or feelings arise, or the original one flares back up, repeat the process.


Start small - maybe five minutes to begin.


Breath is life. Life is complicated, breath is simple. Breath your way through.





Sunday, January 3, 2021

Absent

 In yoga, we usually talk about being present, but over the past few days, "absent" is the word that has been rolling around in my brain.

Yesterday, as I began the process of un-Christmas-ing the house, I found myself lingering on memories of absent loved ones, particularly the ones who have passed on -  their faces, voices, personalities, laughs and quirks.

I feel the collective absence of my family from the homes where we gathered, as if, though new families live there now, there is a parallel universe in which empty rooms echo with our absence. 

I feel the absence of our beloved holiday traditions - Christmas Eve services at Christ Church, drives through our beautiful town to see houses and shops decorated with lights, the exchange of gifts, the meals gathered around Grandma and Grandpa's table, and yes, even Grandma Harris' Christmas pudding.

I feel absent from places I love - particularly New England, which will always be "home," (yes, I even miss the cold and snow) and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where, more than any other place I've lived as an adult, I grew into the person I am now. It's where I wrote my first book, found my yoga teacher, became a teacher, and grieved the deaths of my parents. In different ways, these are the two places where I "grew up."

I felt the absence of Christmases past that Dick and I shared over many years, especially the early ones in York Beach, Maine, when we lived in a tiny home and had little money. I feel the absence of the traditions we created together, particularly holiday celebrations and shopping during the Kennebunkport Christmas Preludes (we went to the very first one, 37 years ago!), and the exhilaration and joy we felt crossing back and forth over the bridge in biting cold and wind to gather delights for our families and each other.

In yoga, it can sometimes seem that the idea of "being present" means to push away all memory of the past or thought of the future; to negate or neutralize the feelings that come with remembering or dreaming -  especially any sadness, melancholy or longing. But being present means to be with what is arising, in this moment now, and that includes everything

Life is moments, and what's experienced in those moments will fluctuate. In the moment, sadness arises. In another moment, a smile forms at a memory that, a moment ago, felt wistful.

To think the idea is to smooth out all the fluctuations into some sort of flat line, or to suppress less pleasant feelings in favor of a faux-enlightened state of joy, is to misunderstand. 

The trick is not to cling to the past or an imagined future for so long that you miss the life you are living now. I know that my present life holds many blessings and joys. But, for just this little while as we transition from old year to new, I am being present with absence.