Keep Reading, Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Some ideas and observations are worth a revisit. This entry was originally posted about 3 years ago and I find that it has relevance still today. I’ve  changed the title and did a bit of editing but the essence remains:

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being, I believe. There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for a separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion and confidence. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

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What’s YOUR Story?

I think of my friend Malynda who used to go up to people and say, in her Texas drawl,  “What’s yer story?” RealRembrandt, Old Man with a Beard (left) and self-portrait (right) hidden underneathly, this would be her greeting. Those are the first words she ever spoke to me and I was dumbfounded at first. But her face was inquisitive and she really wanted an answer. I observed her do this many times over the years and she nearly always ended up getting the “story.” Sometimes the tale was of the present. Other times it was a yarn about how the person came to be standing there answering. But we all answered because someone was present, interested, and ready to listen.

I recalled her bold and genuine query the other day as I thought about writing in general and memoir in particular. Really, what is your story? What makes you “you” at this moment and how did you get to this place where we are interacting? What brought you to this screen? This blog? Why are you asking yourself to offer a real part of yourself to strangers? Why am I? Come to think of it, memoir is not the only writing form that suits this question.

What path led you to fiction or fact? I think it is much more than wanting to share or explore versions of reality. I think those of us in Malynda’s presence responded rather than recoiled because she wanted our story. Her attention told us that we we might be interesting. That our general outline might be much more textured and rich once revealed and explored. What we thought we covered up or lost still showed through and is considered to be a hidden treasure by some. She was actually making us ponder our motives, incentives, and resultant existence as openly as she.

So, you may think you are fully aware of why you are a memoirist or a short story writer or a poet, etc. But if Malynda bore down on you today as you passed on the sidewalk or sat on a bench, what would your answer be? What’s YOUR story? And who will you honor with it?

 

 

We Are All Movers of Obstacles

Meditation does not guarantee peace. It is very much the job of the mind to encroach upon our precious moments and deposit obligations, regrets, great plans, and worry any moment there is a chance of quiet or calm, and our consciousness often acquiesces to these distractions because they are so incredibly strong and very important to us. After all, they design and direct our goals and create a structure for our behavior.

imagesThese obstructions, like many others, are possible to move aside given that you have the right fulcrum. There is no certainty of the existence of a chant or theory that will be the catalyst for your “aha” moment, but, what is certain, is that you can create it for yourself. You are the foundation of your quieted mind.

I came to agree with this ideology—as I often do come to understandings or even questions—as I lay upon my yoga mat after an especially vigorous class. On this day, the outside world and its cares were rather easily forgotten. Like many of us, I do have a tendency to let shopping lists or big ideas flow around when I should be savoring my down time. The darkness was let in and welcomed and the familiar horizontal streaks of insistent daylight played in front of my lids. As I let go, images and lights flashed around incoherently. As they gelled, I had a vision that each of my fellow practitioners was sitting upon her mat in the form of Ganesha and each had a flame over her head. The room was not fully formed, so the background was a general haze of pale yellowish light. I was mesmerized and fascinated and happy and still disengaged from interpretation or analysis. As the voice of my teacher, Alison Levine, gently enticed us back to the moment, I held on to the feeling of wonder.

When I discussed this with Allison, neither of us really knew what to think of this. Obviously we knew it was Ganesha and I have a fondness for that deity, but that did not help me understand why he was manifested as a student and topped with the tongue of a flame as you’d see in relation to the Holy Ghost in Christian scriptures. I was raised Catholic so it’s possible some of the love and beauty from these teachings aligned with this deity, and being blessed with the Holy Spirit is much like being filled with the confidence of the Mover of Obstacles. But Ganesha is related to wisdom and intellect–a guide for those who prefer more active engagement with spirituality. I see the Holy Spirit related to surrender rather than action.

Interestingly, Ganesha is also associated with writers and a writer must remove any obstruction that impedes the creative or analytical process. Inspiration is really not an outside force, but an inner movement motivated by openness to possibilities. Upon reflection I felt a sense of surety that I was identifying each student present as their own mover of obstacles if not in life, in practice on the mat. We were all capable of embodying the idea of challenge and the flame was a reiteration of being infused with this potential.

This idea of possibilities in yoga crosses in to my teaching and writing often. The end is not always what I am concerned with , but the process and what coming to the mat, computer, or notepad may ignite. Your initial intention may very well be moved aside to make room for more or different experiences and output.

As you know, there is much out there on how to remove negative mantras from our thinking patterns, and the term “mindfulness” is becoming a mainstream catch phrase. But do we always find a personal connection to these pieces of advice or terms? And what about those who are interfered with by outside forces rather than internal and who may not have the spiritual resources, yet, to circumvent or fully remove these human or financial trees from the path? I find that when people say “get rid of excuses” or some such maxim, there is insight lacking in their statement. Excuses are formed of matter that bad experiences (perceived or real), low energy (spiritual or physical), and poor self esteem merge to create. An excuse is a symbol of much deeper concerns, not a generic barrier used to casually avoid change. BUT, once the platform for the excuse is restructured or razed, the practiced rationalization is no longer so dear or poignant to the person’s personal rhetoric. The obstacle has been removed or reworked and a new story can be written.

What is your obstacle? Is it a tangible object or a thought that impedes your forward momentum? As a practitioner, do you find any particular impediment to your practice or your quiet mind?

 

Memoirists: My Educators

I was so pleased to read the comments and see the “likes” that appeared in response to my last post. I am always trying to stay in learning mode and keep from atrophying intellectually or creatively, so the feedback I get is always of interest and importance.

Through my newfound colleagues in the blogging community, I have learned even more about the Memoir.  I find myself enlightened as to the fact that a Memoir’s value should be gauged by each reader and their preferences or needs rather than by a preconceived idea of who the Memoirist should be or what their “qualifications” are.

Because I focus my blog content on the pursuit of inspiration for writing in general–rather than in one particular genre–and because I frame my work in relation to the principles and patience of yoga, I cannot remain inspired if I don’t investigate my stubbornness or even snobbery about the varied aspects of these disciplines. To look critically at the place the Memoir holds in my academic background is the first thing I needed to do. The Memoir or an Autobiography, in my literature studies, has always been part of a larger pattern of investigation that helped me to understand a particular writer’s process in life and art. The texts brought to me an understanding of their methods and moods as well as their social or historical influences (I’ll not argue theory here). I adore the work of Edith Wharton, but, without reading about her, I don’t feel that I could claim to begin to understand her work and I would be more passive in my engagement of her books. How is it that she so adeptly censures the suffocating world of the New York aristocracy of her time? How does she so aptly understand the poor or extreme choices one makes when in love or in need of status?

But what about non-academic studies? What about the study of the immediate world around me? What are other people doing with their lives right now and what are the events that shaped them or that must have been navigated to survive or thrive? Can’t they be of interest? Can’t they be included in the Humanities? If I am going to be a reliable teacher of writing, I must understand the modern reader and not just my literary predecessors of both fiction and nonfiction. This is where the modern Memoir comes in to play and takes me out of my institutional sense of propriety. This is where I continue to learn: By letting the discussion or debate happen around me and letting the new voices, the current thinkers and writers tell me about their standards. Let’s face it, unless I need to get a grant or need to gain tenure, do I really have to subscribe to one way of approaching my studies? Yes, this is going to be related to yoga but only briefly: There is no one way to practice. There are many ways of learning and progressing. It’s only up to you if you choose one path of study. That is fine. But do know it is a choice and that there are other paths for other people! Maybe a stroll down one will bring you closer to your own goals!

Do They Have the Equivalent of 750words.com for Yoga Poses?

I am just a joiner I guess. I need to have a group to inspire me or some kind of location to go to. Just like I wrote yesterday about the kind of computer or environment I need for writing, I need a similar vibe for my yoga.

OK, call it avoidance, but if that were it, I’d never get myself out anywhere to write or practice. Isn’t it possible to be sensitive to your location? Really, when people say that money doesn’t buy happiness, I can only think that my hypothetical misery would ease if I were on the Riviera rather than skid row. I’m just sayin’ . . .

So, now that I have the wonderful new mat, I want to put it down in a space that “feels” open and relaxing–and that place is most often NOT my home. I love my home, and it is filled with wonderful pieces from many great artists we’ve known. My son’s art projects are incredibly beautiful to me. BUT I’ve very little floor space. Where I feel embraced and cozy when relaxing, I feel enclosed and restricted when trying to let the energy of the day direct me and my practice.

When I think about it, my weaving self is the same way. Only in this case, I learned to weave on looms in small spaces (small brownstone in Baltimore, small apartment in a booth at a Renaissance festival, a tiny space in my parents’ town house that barely fit the loom and my equipment). When I was able to put my loom in a larger space, I felt as if I were afloat in this vast openness and could not create. Even now, I have a large studio space for my weaving and felting, but I keep the smaller loom in the corner and my felting space is also tucked away.

So far, then, as I review this public therapy session, I think I’ll just get off of my own case and accept that environment is very much a key to how I practice, write, weave, felt, think . . .

Own it, right?

All the Inspiration You Need Can be Found in a Moment . . .But Do You Have the Right Gear?

If I only had access to my keyboard at all times. We do have smart phones and tablets and and and . . .
But a good desktop computer with the right kind of keyboard is the most wonderful thing to me. It might be like a pianist having an electric keyboard or even an app to play with while away from their instrument, but the real thing is what gives real “voice” to their muse.

It’s the same for me with my writing equipment. I need to have the right environment and the right equipment for my ideas to flow smoothly. I still hand write on paper and do enjoy that; but, then, I have to transcribe it and I’ve so little free time as it is. I even record what I can’t write if I’m driving. But, again, returning to it can be tricky.

A friend of mine said it’s more about my level of dedication than it is about inspiration, and I wonder if that is the root of the problem. I’m certainly on top of my jobs but not on top of my unpaid endeavors. Still, I’ve always been sensitive to my equipment. I’ve ridden horses since I was a kid, and I have to admit that a saddle that does not suit me makes even a trail ride something I don’t really rush to do. Now, the right tack is, of course, a safety concern as well as a comfort issue, but I think you get my point. My new yoga mat makes me wonder how I ever kept using the old one. It’s like it was working against me. Even though the practice is about much more than the equipment, the right gear makes it all go very smoothly and enables me to focus on the pose and the intention, hence, the flow.

Today, someone told me about 750 Pages (http://750words.com/). It’s new to me so I can only say that it seems to be a location where writers can plan to go and commit themselves to a minimum of words per day. I think that may be what I need: A commitment. Then, maybe the tools will be less a point of interference if I have to answer to some kind of work or goal. It could make me more mindful of the product rather than the tools themselves.

I’ll let you know how it goes . . .

Quality is Better Than Quantity–Be it Yoga Poses or Words Written

Many bloggers find themselves falling short of time to write, and I have been quite remiss in posting for some time. All for good reasons of course. Busy work schedule–and that is something to say for a freelancer at the beginning of the summer! Quality time with the family is another important priority. But, also, I need to feel inspired to write. There is just no reason to ask for your attention and time if I’ve only posted to maintain a presence in general. You stop to read my posts because you’ve found something you enjoy or look forward to. I won’t mess with that and would rather hope that I don’t disappoint when I appear.

Honestly, you know what has taken away from my creativity? A lack of yoga. While we all can and should practice our yoga anywhere and anytime we can, I am very much a creature of community and do also need a spiritual conversation or exchange with like-minded people as often as possible. My absences from my yoga class have caused a disruption in my creative flow.

I did receive some spiritual nourishment last weekend when I spent time in the Catskills with my family. I’ve been part of that world, or it has been part of me, since I was born. It’s my second home, my only long-term/permanent address before we landed in our current home. That refreshing return to the known, the dependable, was rejuvenating.

From the moment I roll down my window to smell the wild grasses and flowers and hear the sounds of the creek flowing full after the rains to the time I unlock the door of the cabin and see the stone fireplace waiting for the evening flames, I feel like myself again. I know what is expected of me and the tasks involved with settling in are never resented like those of the usual world of work and housework. Even the relentless encroachment of nature that includes mice inside and porcupines chewing the outside walls is more embraceable than dusting and vacuuming at home.

This is much, to me, like taking a yoga class with my favorite instructor Allison Levine and the people I’ve come to know over the years instead of fighting for space at home. I may be able to practice at home, but do I embrace the poses the same way? Am I able to remain mindful? Honestly, no. I need to roll my mental window down and breathe in a different kind of air. One filled with the comforting voices of people I care about, music that inspires happiness even in my least favorite pose (side plank), or that does not immediately deliver the scents of obligation like laundry detergent or cooking food (as nice as that may be).

So, quality wins. I make the time to write or practice as I can and in the location that encourages the kind of mindset that heals and energizes me. Write mindfully and practice authentically, even if that means not always getting in the volume you desire.