The Beauty of Community

The Community Story group just saw the May deadline for the latest prompt arrive and there were some great contributions to work with. The online presence was not as strong as hoped, but we know this will grow with time. We realized that sometimes people are reluctant to step in on something as traditionally sacrosanct as someone else’s story – incomplete or otherwise. It may take time for the online community to realize that this is their story too. In the mean time, the local gathering here in Flemington brainstormed some incredible storylines and will be taking the next 2 weeks to compare and contrast the possible trajectory and resolution of the narrative.

I found myself out of  my element last Friday as most everyone in the meeting leaned towards a kind of sci-fi or dystopian plotline. That is just not my forte. But that is the beauty of community writing. There is no one voice and there is no guarantee that you can stay in your comfort zone or allow yourself to stagnate. As these posts almost inevitably tie in to mindfulness and openness, you’ll not be surprised to read that once I accepted my feelings of insecurity and ineptitude in the face of a completely unexpected thematic focus and much more experienced writers of this kind of tale, a full page’s worth of text just flowed out of me in a matter of moments. What a thrill.

Another important gift that comes with openness and welcoming the muse or inspiration is that a kind of energy swells internally and warms you physically as well as emotionally. Breathing can become smoother and freer if you pay attention  the flow of your thoughts and even crave challenges. All things become fluid. Your talents and skills can only wither in the  vice that is avoidance and doubt.

It’s going to be a long two weeks waiting for our next gathering.

 

 

The Stress of the Business Battle vs. The Rewards of Defending Your Rights

While I generally hate the energy it takes to sustain a confrontation, I’m not one to shrink from defending what is right. Common courtesy is right. Good business practices are right. Ethical choices are right. Acknowledging mistakes is right. What is not right is to make someone have to push you in any of these directions.

I’m very frustrated right now and not really living my yoga practice as I must pursue someone who insists on using one of my business names. I predate this person by many years but, due to lack of good research or blatant disregard, she is still using the name. I really don’t wish her ill. She seems to do good work and I’m not one to bully a creative entity; but, really, must she use something already owned? Are there no other names available out there?

Let’s say she just did not pay attention. OK, no problem. Just “cease and desist” as they say and everyone is happy. But this is not the case and I am just simply unhappy having to get big and loud. I’ll do it if I have to, but why? Really? Think about it. There is plenty of room out there for many new stories, many new songs, brands for businesses, titles . . . Is it really necessary to make someone have to, well, fight you for a place in the world?

There is nothing good about spending this kind of energy on negative and unnecessary problems. As writers, we need to respect our predecessors, embrace our contemporaries. As business people, we need to put it on ourselves to create our own niche, not invade someone else’s. If we find ourselves embroiled in this sad but common problem, try to embrace some kind of grace and dignity in it. Even do your best to avoid putting your counterpart in a bad position. Hold your ground yes, but lets not make it all muddy.

Lost: L-dog. When last seen, quite strong and ready for hand stands. Reward offered.

This is not the first time I’ve written about a yoga pose that has eluded or plain left me for a time. Yes, lack of practice of a particular pose or series of poses does account for the weakness, but it is frustrating to regress. I call it a loss because it’s not as simple as just practicing again. It is a mind set as well as a muscle memory that needs to return. It is about relearning and not only rediscovering how the pose felt, but also about discovering a new strength and finesse.

When I realized I could not simply move into my L-dog the other day, it was humbling to say the least. I had a group of much younger women around me simply stepping up and staying put—no shaking arms or anything! I was struggling like I’d never done it before. The ole legs just didn’t have it. Still, I found something to take from my practice that day: don’t neglect anything you’ve learned. Don’t assume it all stays with you. Age is only one factor. Ability is another. The more adept you are at something, the more you might get away with neglecting your practice, but, eventually, the staleness shows.

As I watched some of the Olympics on TV, I saw the same dilemma for some of the athletes. Some simple or routine moves did not work out. Some of the skiers had terrible times. Speed skaters didn’t start fast. The weather was an issue and still is, I know, but that is part of what I am talking about. Messed up schedules, unexpected obstacles, stress, they all contribute to the level of performance of even elite competitors. How is it not going to be a problem if we amateurs or lower-level competitors don’t keep up the work?

For the writers who read this blog, take heed. This is a reminder that your writing chops need to be honed no matter what. Time off, stress, doubt, fear, you name it. They can stifle your efforts. Or, simple complacency can hobble you. My L-dog was curbed by the expectation that it would always respond when beckoned. Wrong. Nothing, not writing, not yoga, not any sport or skill can stay sharp and graceful without attention.

Practice—stay fresh, stay strong.

Are You a Magnolia or a Milkweed?

Last spring, my yoga instructor, Allison Levine, was talking about the glorious blooms on the Magnolia tree outside her window. While the other trees and plants were taking their time waking up, this tree was already in the throws of spring exultation. This observation led to discussions of our own identities and inclinations. After a while we were trying to figure out what plant represented a different rhythm in the cycle of growth.  A mid-to-end-of-season species, Milkweed popped into my head. Now, it is not a fall plant like many crops, but it is a late summer bloom and one that brings fresh sweetness to the thick air of late July and August.

Some writers are Magnolias. They have these intense bursts of energy and crank out work speedily.  Others ruminate for periods of time and gradually produce their blossoms. I am definitely a Milkweed. I like the gradual progression of time to bring me into focus (or bloom). If I burst onto the scene ahead of the rest, I feel exposed and awkward. Perhaps I’m not a trend setter or a mover and shaker so much as a thoughtful observer. I’m my own breed (or species) but not a follower for certain. It’s important to identify which one you are so that no writing guides, blogs (ahem), or courses influence you to put your writing habits on the wrong timeline. However, I do recommend setting some kind of  goal and timeline. Otherwise you become like Camus’ character, Joseph Grand, in The Plague who perpetually rewrites the opening line of his novel, and never progresses beyond. This is not just a lack of deadline pressure for him, but a lack of connection to what he wants to express. Still, procrastination tends to reflect a lack of direction.  But what timeline and what goal you wish to meet needs to be something you know inside feels right. Your goals should fit like a soft pair of slippers that you look forward to settling in to. Some may think they are homely and need changing, while others like their coziness and envy your ability to relax into them.

Returning to the Magnolia/Milkweed analogy, I was just finishing Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Overall I like his work and I do think that his output has a nice rhythm, Not too much too fast, but we are not left waiting interminable months or years before he resurfaces. I think he is a Milkweed. I may be wrong. But even his voice caresses and his reading of his works smoothly flows forward without dynamic intensity. It is subtle and powerful. Just like the blooms and the fragrance of the Milkweed. I recently thought of him  when my friend’s 6 year old very primly informed me of the substantial size of her family’s flat screen TV. She was suffering through watching my standard television that I see no need to replace as long as it still does its job. She helpfully suggested that I give mine to someone so I could have a nice TV like hers. In that moment,  I realized that I am also disturbed by large flat screens in the home. It’s the void they represent. Think about it. You have a large black hole on your wall or on a cabinet. A large black nothing sitting passively but expectantly for you to activate it, much like the “varmints” in Gaiman’s book, tearing bits of the world away so that there is nothing but a kind of old fashioned TV static where life used to be. These large black square holes are much like the emptiness that these creatures, the hunger birds, inflict on the world until someone stops them. Do I want to eradicate a large space in my room? Absorb light instead of welcome it?

Not sure how all of the above connects together and to my theme of mind/body/spirit and the writing life? Teaching and learning? Well, my understanding of the many objects that surround and influence us and our relationship to them has matured as I continue to follow the path of awareness that regular reading and listening opens before me. Lacking the ability to truly observe and understand the inanimate world we create around us prevents our ability to describe and communicate it without images. Without the mindful community of yoga practitioners sharing their observations and inspirations with me, these thoughts would not have been initiated nor would they have taken root. It is not ourselves alone that bring forth our work. It is engagement with the world that fertilizes our imaginations and allows our ideas to germinate and grow into the particular plant, bush, or tree that is our writing selves. We cannot even become a Magnolia or a Milkweed without the entire process, the changing of the seasons and the insect and animal life  shall we say, that enables the entity to grow at all, much less healthily and to fulfill its role in a larger cycle. Random discussion among a discourse community, reading a talented and enigmatic author’s work, listening to a child’s reasoning, sitting with a seemingly irrational or unfounded discomfort with an appliance, writing and experimenting with your work and output—these all create a kind of compost to fertilize your talent and instigate growth patterns.

I am a Milkweed. I would not change this if I were offered the opportunity. I like the pom pom balls of blooms.  A gathering rather than a single bud. The memory of the beautiful spring Lilac’s scent is resurrected in late summer by this plant allowing the admirer to participate in two seasons at once.  I like the Monarch butterflies that rely on me (my students and readers) and enhance the setting with their fluttering contributions. I am ubiquitous. I reside in a world of small clusters of writers and practitioners rather than towering alone. Most importantly, I like to see the seeds of my work spread tangibly out into the world. I rely on the impetus of the wind to assist me (translation: openness to the universe’s rhythms). Be a Magnolia proudly if that is your style. Be the harbinger of beauty and renewed life and be exciting and bold. But don’t ignore the simple Milkweed in your literary horticulture. Look forward to its arrival.

Yes, pain is inevitable

Of course, many of you know the follow up statement: Suffering is optional. I was reminded of this when I was reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It’s not reaching me as well as How Yoga Works, but it is a valid and meaningful read just the same. In this case, I’m talking about emotional pain, psychological pain. This is mostly because I relate my posts to my career in editing and writing and teaching. Outside of potential carpel tunnel syndrome, I don’t have much in the way of physical pain to relate to my job. Ok, I get a pain in my head when I read some of my students’ work but that is another story. No matter how good I am at my work or even just proficient, I always relate the outcomes to my self worth. Ouch. Can we all really do the job perfectly all the time? Can’t life get in the way? Can’t the perspective of what is good and what is not be subjective to a degree? Yes, right? So why insert pain into the mix?

In my work, tangible results are the measurement of my worth. What I think of it is not relevant to the paycheck or continued success. What I write must not need much editing if it is to be considered good. My editing should enhance the written page. The majority of my college students should be able to meet the basic learning outcomes when they leave my classroom. Sometimes, though, I’m not up to snuff. My writing may not be as dynamic as I’d like. But isn’t that what an editor can take on?

As an editor, I can answer, yes. There is a difference between sloppy or weak work and good stuff that needs some tweaking sometimes. Needing support is not a failing. As an editor, I can be very judgmental, but I do my best not to antagonize the writer. He/she might be having a bad week. It’s my job to find out what makes him/her tick and keep the clock going. Finally, as a professor, I can’t guarantee that the whole class will get what I’m teaching, but I should be able to know I did my best to be clear and  consistent with them.

How do these connect to mindfulness and pain-free living? If Yoga teachers were judged on concrete outcomes, they’d all be in trouble. Which of us can say we never regress in our practice? Who can say why some days we cannot keep our balance or pose as well as others. In some cases, we know what affects us. Just one glass of wine affects my energy in my morning practice. But did I screw up by drinking it? No, I just learn to know my body better by remaining mindful–aware.

I really like feeling comfortable with being human, mistakes and all. Pain should bring insight, not a sense of futility.

Have You Lost Your Chaturanga?

I have, at the moment. Some days I am so focused or mindful that I can lower myself smoothly down and hover for a moment before moving on to cobra. But other days, I can’t do it. I just have to do knees-chest-chin as if I’ve never had the strength or the practice. That happens in life as well. Just when you think you are at least at a certain level of practice or ability, something comes along that lets you know that you still have more to learn or that you are not on the path you thought you were.

I recently had a tantalizing job lead that at once elated me and troubled me. The opening was in the publishing industry and I had about 85% of the requirements down solid.  One area, budgeting, I had no experience with and I have not been actively working in online formatting. I am still print-based in my employment. Well, it’s not that I did not know that online publishing is a major force in the industry, but I’ve been kept busy with print—and teaching, and tutoring, and, and, and. But now, even with all of my experience in this field, I am no longer strong. I’ve lost my publishing chaturanga.

Do I stay at knees-chest-chin and hope the groove comes back or do I allow the good days to flow and show the bad days some compassion? I’m not a stay put kind of person by nature. I am easily frustrated though and that often gets in my way. But I’ll practice mindfulness and compassion and let the publishing world do without me for some time while I take some classes to get myself current in the online medium. That wasn’t the only gig out there. Yoga? I remember how smoothly the poses have come when I did not fight them or worry about them. But I do need to keep up with my practice and learn more so I can give myself the room to grow.

Don’t let yourself lose your chaturanga. You may misplace it for a little while, but know it is there waiting for your mind and body to come back to the mindful path.

“There is Now A Level Zero.” But Is That Reality or Perception?

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Yes, I quoted Kung Fu Panda, and I’m proud of it. Even though a film or a book is geared towards a younger audience or is not intended to be an intellectual or overtly educational experience, many writers of these materials are well educated in literary history, philosophy, logic, rhetoric, religion, and history.

One of the most profoundly thrilling moments in the film for me is when Master Shifu realizes that it is not Po’s inability to learn or belong (Po being the “big fat panda”–the hero), but his own failing to learn how to teach Po. This causes the perpetual chaos and frustration that everyone is experiencing. Shifu judges Po’s ability from outside appearances (as self-conscious and comedic as they are) and sees him through his own filter of expectation—not Po’s own essence and possibilities.

When I teach my students or work on my own educational, literary, and spiritual growth, I cannot fail to remain conscious of the possible causes of any setbacks, stagnation, or failures. Is my student refusing to make use of his materials? Maybe. Is it me that has not acknowledged that these materials or the medium I use to disseminate them are suitable to this person’s style of learning? It is up to me to figure this out. If I stop learning, I am not worthy of being a teacher.

I am currently working on a text for an educational publishing company that should be a breeze for me. It’s a 5th-grade-grammar workbook for ESL students. Very basic layout via Word. How simple is that for a professor and long-time writer/editor of similar materials? Not at all. The book map is not as detailed as I’ve worked with before or even created before. The distribution of work (writing, editing, layout, and proofreading all in separate stages with different people) is not part of the process. I have to design and write simultaneously. Yes, there are existing texts to use as my guides. Yes, the content has already been chosen. But I have to be creative and write entertaining exercises while being conscious of what images to use and how to fit them while I keep to the objectives of the grammar for each stage. Too many hats for me. Maybe not for anyone else, but yes, for me. That made me feel quite ashamed frankly. How can a person with a master’s and who has been in publishing and academia for years be so unable to do this with ease?

I return to the movie: At one point, when Po has been repeatedly pushed physically and emotionally to his limits, Shifu finds him high on a shelf in a perfect split (that he could not master on the training grounds at all). Po cannot not perform even basic moves in standard training, but he can accomplish quite a bit when what he relates to best (food) is involved. It was Shifu who insisted on making Po fit in the wrong mold more than Po’s being an ill fit.

Maybe my “level 0” has more to do with a structure that I do not relate to. I work in larger grammatical structures, vocabulary that addresses many disciplines, and freedom to choose my own topics to write about. I just buck at the limitations of this project.

Maybe we all have a “level 0” just as we all are masters in some aspect of our lives or work. What you see as “level 0” at the moment may be really that your mind rejects directions and motivations that are not framed the right way for you right now.

So, how do you see yourself? Is how you define yourself or how others define you truly who or what you are? Can you see a person struggling as someone in need of a new perspective or motivation rather than a person who is failing or a misfit?

I’ll take my “level 0” in stride right now and see if Master Shifu (my editor) can figure out how to frame the structures differently for me. Or, when I must take the role of Master Shifu, I will try to figure out how to connect with my own versions of Po without the obstruction of judgement and rigid form.