Begin Again

images-6Begin Again is the title of a movie that my husband turned me on to. The main character, a producer in the music business has many reversals in his life like a failed marriage and stagnating career. As the movie evolves, we see him pushing forward and drawing from his past success to bolster his future. There is reinvention regeneration of spirit. He begins again and againIt was a good flick. So, what’s this got to do with writing or even yoga? Begin and Again. In both your writing ambitions and your yoga practice, each day is a beginning.

Aristotle stated that ” . . . the beginning is thought to be more than half of the whole, and many of the questions we ask are cleared up by it.” Basically, the best most focused start is the most promising for desired outcomes. If something goes awry, look to the pattern of events that led up to the road block. How did you begin? How did you set up or clear your space? Maybe you did not have everything you needed, including the focus, so your pages are not so inspired or your poses were a struggle to maintain. We all have to begin each day when we wake up up even if the projects or poses are part of an ongoing ambition or enjoyable habit.

images-5The “again” part is a bit more complicated. Each day can be an “again” in a positive light or an “again” as in “ugh.” Returning and beginning again can be synonymous but quite a big difference also. In writing, the starting over can be so frustrating. You may have scrapped something that was not working out and are feeling zapped of the will to try again. But, like the character in the movie, if you love what you do and want to stay in the business/genre that you chose, you’ll unload or shelve what you have to and bulldoze past any naysayers to see your vision become a reality.

My yoga practice and my riding both create a focus for me that I don’t find coming from anything else. For both of these my beginning has to include being fully present or there is no flow or forward movement literally or figuratively. My poses are stiffer. If the horse lacks clear communication and relies on himself to decide how to respond to my aids, any effort is lost energy and potential. It only makes sense that if I sit down to write, I need to have a plan. Even a plan to free write so that I can let the words come out. I can edit and adjust later but I need to begin, and begin with purpose.

images-7Thus we begin again and again. But and it needs to be in the spirit of learning and endeavor, not frustration. So beginings are new, they are do overs ,they are retracing of steps ,they are clean slates. They are framed by your past behavior and generate results based on your focus or lack thereof. There are “agains” in everything so let the again be a revisiing of an effort you’d like to see more sucess from. Don’t let it become a state of repetition and stagnation.

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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?

 

What Causes Laziness?

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Maybe asking “What is laziness?” might be more appropriate for this post. I’m not discussing the lackadaisical feeling that comes with a nice spring day or even a general feeling of lethargy after illness or when faced with unwanted tasks to complete. I am concentrating on the kind of laziness that prevents someone from bothering to do their best and, in its manifestation, shows a lack respect for the people affected by this inaction or indifference.

For my courses, I have a strict attendance policy that includes limitations on how late a student can arrive. After the 10-minute cut off, the late arrival is recorded and, at three instances, these become the equivalent of one absence.  At four absences, the final grade drops one letter. At five, the course is failed. Why? Because structure is important for learning–especially in a community. It’s also about respect as well as goals and outcomes. So, if a student shows up late regularly, they disrupt my lecture or a fellow student’s commentary/presentation, and it is inevitable that the chronic absentees will ask repeatedly for updates. In both cases, the students’ work calculably suffers from their lack of engagement.

Yes, I do also have a policy on unnecessary phone or computer use: After three instances the student is marked absent and each time after that they are marked absent (see above for attendance policy). If I am putting effort out for their benefit, this laziness tells me that my efforts are wasted and also disregarded.

This is an issue in some yoga classes as well. Some students do not respect the time the teacher is taking for us and will look at cell phones, answer them, or generally start talking about things unrelated to the class. Really, it’s not like they have time to be bored. This lack of consideration for the overall goals of the class and the group as a whole is of concern.

This is where the issue of laziness comes in. Courtesy and compassion take effort. Effort at paying attention. Effort at considering life outside of your own. Effort at acknowledging that the person in charge is there because they are an expert and want to teach these skills to those who took the seat or mat space that someone else might have had access to.

I think that the absence of respect and consideration come from a lack of inspiration or a lack of vision as to what the moment’s teaching and can lead to. How ready are people to reach out of a comfort zone and face being unsure in the next steps of a process? This inability to think beyond the moment or to create a sense of connection between subject matter or colleagues and classmates should not be an insurmountable condition.

I think that laziness in the face of learning comes from a disconnect from a sense of goals. A lack of instant gratification and a dearth of foresight. In other words, this type of laziness is not a benign state of procrastination, nor is it necessarily a passing state of being. Without a connection to a long-term goal (with flexibility in outcomes), there is no spirit in one’s effort and the laziness that brings about indifference could become a chronic condition.

No amount of regulation and rules will help. the only thing left to those of us affected is to create structure and adhere to our standards. Compassion and patience do come in to play, but the recipient has to be ready to make proper use of these. I try to be that guide but, sometimes, I must remove the lazy person from my class or move away from the classmate. It’s the uncomfortable effort I must put out if I am going to learn and progress.

Yoga, Writing, and Who You Really Are

A friend of mine just e-mailed an article to me that discusses what your favorite yoga poses tell you about yourself. Never mind the obvious issues of being in shape or still learning, because even something new or difficult can be stimulating to pursue. So what you decide to keep working on very well may tell you what you need or want in life in general.

I avoid side plank and am afraid of many inversions and don’t keep at them as much. But there are other poses that are difficult that I don’t avoid. Hmmm.

Those of you who know my work know then that this will continue on to a discussion of writing. And what does your writing say about you? I should ask first what does your reading say about you? Really, do you reach for People at the dentist’s office or Time? Do you buy books you think you should read while really wanting  to read something else? Either way, why?

I found myself today reaching to buy a book I thought I should read because I had been neglecting my studies in Irish literature. I wanted to read Neil Gaiman’s latest book of short stories. Gaiman won out. Who’s going to penalize me? After all, I dabble in the short story myself. How am I going to learn and improve if I don’t read the masters? I am not talking only of the members of the  literary cannon, but those whom I believe to be worthy of the title of master. Frankly, some writers are not to my taste and, no matter what their status in the literary community, I don’t prefer to read them–yet (or again). So do I not appreciate the writers I avoid or am I not ready to experience them fully? Can I fully embrace and engage in the profession of writing if I only read what I want instead of including what I should? You are wondering why I am not mentioning other authors’ names. This is simply because I want you to focus more on yourself and  your own questions about investigation and experience than debating my taste or choices. I’d rather you ask yourself about your choices and aversions and see where that leads.

As you read the article, see if you find out something new about yourself through your yoga practice. If you don’t practice yoga or not regularly, insert genres or authors in place of the poses and see what you find out about yourself.

http://life.gaiam.com/article/what-does-your-favorite-yoga-pose-say-about-you

I’m interested in your reactions  . . .

 

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 . . .

Openness and Breathing: They Even Help Your Writing

Today, my yoga instructor, Allison, worked on guiding us in envisioning and feeling the true expansiveness of breath we can achieve if we let go of tension and acknowledge how much our upper bodies come into play to create a true flow of air and expansion. This reminded me of a book someone once gave me called The Science of Breath. As I understand, it is in our abdomens that our breath should begin to “fill” our bodies. Our lungs may be the key organs for this process, but it is in our whole torso, front and back, that we maximize their function. We need to feel our bellies and our backs fill. We need to let our ribs expand. So we need to be mindful of how we feel physically so we can remain open to how we think and act. I couldn’t help then thinking about why it is so many of us restrict our breathing and how we limit other capacities—and why.

Allison’s efforts at having us imagine the area behind our rib cages as caves, as her own instructor has taught her, encouraged us to fill this area and almost touch our back bodies with our abdomens. Not closing off so much as opening fully and then gently contracting and pushing the air up and up through more regions and, thus, nourishing more of our selves. For those of us not regularly in practice of this and and more often stressed enough to hold our breath or breathe more shallowly, it was almost hard to create this openness. We didn’t know where to “put” all of the air or how to let if flow. Our chests almost felt constricted rather than open, but this can be rectified once we reconfigure our bodies to enable the air to flow where is should and needs to rather than where we have allowed it. It’s kind of like getting unused muscles in shape. It’s not comfortable at first, but when done properly, it’s liberating and enlivening.

This all of course brought me to think about the layers of fat so many Americans pad themselves with and wonder if this padding is a way to insulate us from having to feel the discomfort of reconfiguring our bodies and our minds. It takes work and is sometimes uncomfortable at first. It takes patience. In a culture of here-and-now immediacy, opening up more than our mouths to new experiences and feeling our bodies as they are–in the processes we find ourselves in the movement–is scary. It seems to be more appealing to become numb and to create distance from our awareness. So, the padding of fat is a distance between the openness of our caves/ribs, and the space we can create in our bodies. This space must be terrifying and we try to fill it any way possible. So, we eat and get full, stay full, and breathe more shallowly so nothing else can get in and disturb us.

But how am I going to tie these thoughts and observations in to the writing life? Well, I can find connections in many things that at first may not seem logically aligned. I’m a writer and relatively good researcher who uses her analytical mind to find connections that are viable. Meaning that you don’t need pure faith to believe or consider my perspective. You of course don’t need to agree with me. So, how do you “pad” your pages? Do you have language equivalents of body fat because the silence or blank spaces are too uncomfortable? Do you feel that your worth as a writer is only as weighty as the mass on the screen? We are encouraged to write and write and write in order to prevent “blocks” or losing our good habits. But noise is noise; words are words. Does mass equal accomplishment? Sit with the emptiness and discover where the expansion or contractions really fit. Are you embracing the full potential of your characters or story or are you just concerned with page count? The fullness comes from effort that is not always a smooth process. With your practice comes the sudden eureka or enlightenment that tells you the approach was just right and all the padding you had added was just a block or burden. As I always tell my students and writing group: Working hard is not the same as working right. Knowing what is right takes practice and mindfulness and only then can you feel as if it is all flowing in the right direction. Feel comfortable with the expansiveness in your body, your mind, and then your page.