Knowing

616217_4075993291525_1647459565_oYou’ve heard the phrase “knowledge is power.” I’ve been thinking about this. Information is a useful thing. Especially information about yourself and how you handle things, react to things. Knowing yourself makes life easier and nicer. It helps you engage more deeply with the world, to want to engage more deeply. It helps you avoid pitfalls and obstacles, or at least accept them and move through them more gracefully. Even things you don’t really want to know, the stuff you avoid knowing, is necessary to look at, finally.

Most of what you know, you find out through experience. When you do something again and again, when you have a routine, you start to notice patterns. You start to notice whether or not these patterns are working, whether they make you feel good or bad. Just being aware of the pattern and how it feels might help you start to change it.

Sometimes you realize something out of the blue, and it seems so obvious, you don’t know why you didn’t see it before. Or someone tells you, and you can’t believe you needed someone to tell you. Or you didn’t realize it until you heard it in just those words. Or you finally admit something to yourself and see that it feels better to know it than to pretend you didn’t know.

Sometimes you need to do the work of finding out. You need to go to the doctor, or to therapy, or to AA. It’s not always fun, but ultimately it’s a relief to understand. And to have some guidance about what to do next.

Because once you know things, you can’t just sit around and know them. You need to use them, to apply them. That, I believe, is living fully.

Here a few things I know about myself:

— I am not a morning person.

— I’m funny.

— I’m a little boy-crazy, even at 41 (see Simon Le Bon, Robert Downey Jr., et. al.).

— I get snappish when I’m frustrated or distracted.

— I get quiet when I’m tired.

— I get skinny when I’m sad.

— I love being with people, but I’m also a homebody.

— I like to feel on top of things, and to have things in order.

— I’m a recovering perfectionist.

— I couldn’t live without books and music.

— I’m stronger than I used to think I was.

— I subscribe to The Four Agreements.

— I think there’s some higher, divine order to the universe. I don’t really need to know more than that.

Here are a few things I know about myself and yoga:

— I am not afraid of backbends and never have been, even though opening your chest and heart brings all sorts of emotions to the surface.

— Lately, I actually love them, because I finally figured out how to really get my shoulder blades down my back.

— My left thigh bone doesn’t fit perfectly into the hip socket. The right one absolutely does. Things that feel great on my right sometimes hurt on the left. It’s frustrating, but I can work with it.

— I have a bit of scoliosis in my lumbar spine. It curves out to the left a bit. This makes me tip that way sometimes. I can work with that.

— My Achilles tendons get tight, and pressing down through my outer foot helps in poses like triangle.

— I tend to tuck my chin into my chest, and I have to remember (or be reminded) to lift it. This makes breathing easier and nicer.

— I can’t yet kick up into a handstand, but one day I will.

— I really don’t enjoy utkatasana (chair pose) or warrior 1  (seriously, what is with the placement of the back foot?). I adore ustrasana  (camel), and I also really love and appreciate ardha chandrasana  (half moon).

— The Universal Principles of Alignment are key, no matter what we’re calling them these days or who made them up. In yoga and in life.

Here are a few things I know about myself and running:

— I don’t do well in humidity. I prefer 35 degrees to 75 degrees.

— I like to run in the morning, but not too early in the morning (in the summer, this is going to have to change).

— I love running outside and detest the treadmill.

— I can run in a snowstorm or a rainstorm.

— I need to drink a lot of water before and after, because otherwise I get dehydrated, and I also get a horrible headache.

—  If my knees or ankles start to hurt, it helps to pull in to the midline (yoga trick).

— I can go six miles, which means I can probably go 12 miles. Or maybe even 13.1.

Today on my run I decided that when I’m going downhill, I really feel like a runner. (And I’m from the Midwest, so every slight rise is a hill.) Uphill, not so much. Of course, I know the reason for this: gravity. Downhill, I can go faster, my form is better, and I just feel good, strong, capable. Uphill, I struggle, slow down, breathing is tougher. I feel like I’m puttering along, and I certainly don’t feel masterful.

However, I do know that the hill won’t last forever, and that I can do it. I will make it to the top.

And then I’ll get to coast down again.

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Masterpiece

11817183_10206405009697407_8440405729264954038_nWhen love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. — John Ruskin

I’ve been thinking about how we are each responsible for our own care.

So often, so many other things and people come first: boss, kids, spouse, parents, friends. We beat ourselves up for not hitting the mark, for not being everything we can to them, not realizing that we can’t even come near that (unrealistic) goal if our focus veers so very far away from ourselves.

We pay lip service to the “Take some me time” concept. But in general we put ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list. “Me” is the line item we let slide, the one that can wait.

We treat hearts, our minds, our bodies like a tin can or a paper bag: disposable, temporary, unimportant. We should treat ourselves like a masterpiece — fragile, rare, special — and care for ourselves in kind.

This takes two things: love and skill.

The first step is being kind to yourself.

Most people are used to being hard on themselves, noticing every flaw and every slip-up and then punishing themselves for it, over and over and over. They’re so willing to let other people pile on with their actions and comments — so willing to let other people’s issues cut to their quick. They eschew boundaries completely and leave themselves open to any hurt that might float their way, or they build a wall so tall and strong that nothing is getting in or out. They dismiss their feelings and opinions as worthless, not valuable. They work so hard to make others happy that there’s nothing left for them.

Being kind to yourself is a choice. You can decide to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to know yourself better. There are lots of ways to do it. Eating better. Exercise. Therapy. Meditation. Books. Music. Friends with a ready shoulder and ear. Taking real, quality time away from work and other responsibilities. Considering what you love and what makes you happy, and making it a priority to get more of that into your life. Making all of these things a priority — scheduling them in like you do everything else, all the meetings and errands and things that don’t matter nearly as much.

Then you need skill. Tools for creating the proper boundaries — ones that leave space around your protected center, your heart, but that are also porous, allowing you be open to other people, to life. Tools for identifying your emotions and learning how to engage with them and move through them instead of letting them control and hurt you. Tools for learning how to let go and believe that the universe has your back. Tools for learning to engage with yourself, the people around you, and the world, so that you can feel real joy and freedom.

The most important part? Engaging with yourself. That’s what we let ourselves look at the least, what we’re least practiced at.

It’s a huge responsibility, but we need to take it on if we want our experience here on earth to be as full and deep as it can be. And truth be told, shouldering it is not nearly as exhausting as avoiding it.

You don’t have to do it alone. There are people around you who love you and will be happy to remind you of it, who will tell you in minute detail exactly what’s amazing about you, whenever you need them to. (To that end, I highly recommend a regular Dharma Dinner.) All you need to do is reach out and ask.

All the work will be worth it. Feeling yourself transformed into a masterpiece is true bliss.


Contained

I got this mandala pendant necklace a month or so ago. I fell in love with it immediately. It has a green and purple design on one side and a pink and orange one on the other.

I was first drawn to mandalas when I found printouts of them online to color with my kids. There’s something incredibly satisfying about choosing the colors, filling in the pattern, and making something beautiful—and it’s also fascinating to see how the same design colored by two different people looks unique in each incarnation.

But a mandala is a lot more than just a sophisticated color-by-number. The word comes from the Sanskrit manda (which means core or quintessence) and la (container). A mandala is the quintessential container—it symbolizes the cosmos and everything within it, much, I think, as the sound of Om represents the sound or energy of the universe.

There are countless intricate, symmetrical designs to be found in nature—think snowflakes, or spiderwebs. Tibetan Buddhist monks create intricate mandala patterns of colored sand and then destroy them, signifying the transience of all things.

This verse from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (another book I came across during my yoga teacher training) made me think of my mandala pendant:

Empty within, empty without, empty like a pot in space.

Full within, full without, full like a pot in the ocean.

A container being filled and emptied. An inhale and an exhale. Drawing in and extending out.

Our physical body is our own personal mandala: It’s the quintessential container of our self. And we can move our bodies in such a way that we can start to feel that pulsation of being filled and emptied. Of filling and emptying ourselves, in each moment of every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. Just by taking a breath.

I love my necklace not only because it’s lovely and colorful (and my wardrobe needs all the help it can get when it comes to color) but because it’s a reminder, a talisman of sorts. Of all that’s contained in me, in everyone I know, in everything. Of everything.


The Bliss of the Everyday

601676_10200878821106146_792732510_nShiva Sutras, 3:27: katha japah/Ordinary talk of life is the recitation of mantra.

I’ve always been a homebody. It’s part of my sign—Cancer—and though I wouldn’t call myself “domestic” (cleaning is not my forte) I can definitely identify with the idea of the crab’s shell as its protection. Home is safety, protection, comfort. My own private space is my refuge. Every time I’ve moved, and it’s pretty much always been into a bigger, better place, I’ve mourned leaving the old one. I always walk through all the empty rooms one last time.

Seemingly “momentous” occasions don’t generally happen at home, but if you think about it, everything that’s most important does. Home is the place where our relationships with loved ones play out, where we really allow ourselves to feel our emotions, where everything that makes up day-to-day life happens. The rhythm of our regular days might not always seem exciting or memorable, but we depend upon it. According to the Shiva Sutras, which was a required text for my yoga teacher training: Ordinary talk of life is the recitation of mantra.

If you start with the concept that the divine stuff of the universe is everywhere, in everything and everyone, moving through the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday life becomes the process of reciting mantra, of connecting with yourself and with the energy of the universe every day. The things that feel ordinary and foundational to our lives are actually the things that can transport us to the divine—at any moment at all. Being grounded in the ordinariness of life is the very thing that can help us attain the bliss that is already within us.


My Om Tattoo, Redux

This is far and away the most popular post on my blog, and one of my favorites too. It’s almost exactly a year old, which seems auspicious. So I’m reposting it today.

Tattoo number two is a done deal. It’s a simple black Om, on my inner right forearm. (The other one is on the inside of my left ankle; it’s a yin-yang-ish version of my zodiac sign, Cancer.) It took the guy 10 minutes, and the pain was completely bearable. We had a nice chat, and I even watched him put the ink in.

It looks gorgeous.

I felt kind of badass.

My lovely friend Miriam came with me, and we had lunch, a great walk around Montclair, and a browse around a used bookstore, too. Om, indeed.

Om (or Aum) is a sacred and mystical syllable in Indian religions. It is very often the first word of Hindu texts, because it’s an incantation to be intoned before (and after) a reading. It’s considered the name of God, or — and I love this — the vibration of the Supreme.

Om is the sound you chant at the beginning and end of yoga class. It’s a mantra. When everyone’s in sync, it sounds like a beautiful harmonic.

One of the things I really love about Om is the idea that it is “the primordial hum of the universe.” It’s the sound in the background, the constant buzz of life. I love that in a spiritual way, because for a long time I’ve considered God to be the higher order in the universe. The utter elegance of mathematics, all the symmetry in nature, and even the way analogies work in words are all proof to me that the universe is ordered on some level. That there’s a diffusion of spirit that keeps things going. Whether or not it has a consciousness, I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter to me. I like to think of it as disembodied, actually, as energy. And Om is the sound it makes.

For a while I was hesitant to get an Om tattoo. I wondered, is it kind of cliché? But then I started to think about it the way I think of my older daughter’s name. Kate is a very popular name, but I love it, and I’ve always loved it, and there was no question in my mind once we found out that she was a girl that it would be her name. Everyone else could have named their kid Kate too, and I’d still have chosen it. I didn’t get an Om just because I’m into yoga now. It really speaks to what I’ve believed for most of my life but didn’t really have a name for until I truly came to yoga and learned more about it.

When I was first considering it and tossing it around, a woman I know told me I should think about the fact that it would be there on my arm when my girls get married and I’m the mother of the bride. Like that would be a bad thing. I can’t remember if I asked her or just thought this: Why is it okay to wear a cross or a star around your neck but not to have an Om tattooed on your arm?

In the book Om Chanting and Meditation, author Amit Ray says:

Om is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos, whatever we can see, touch, hear and feel. Moreover, it is all that is within our perception and all that is beyond our perception. It is the core of our very existence. If you think of Om only as a sound, a technique or a symbol of the Divine, you will miss it altogether…. It is the eternal song of the Divine. It is continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.

I can’t really improve upon that.

One of my teachers said recently that chanting Om validates your place in the universe; it’s a way of saying I am here. What better reminder to have on the inside of my forearm?


Messages

Yesterday I was cranky all day. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. Yes, it was rainy in the morning, and that’s enough right there. I didn’t get to go running, so that probably didn’t help either. By the end of the day I was feeling snapish and peeved and couldn’t wait for my sweet daughters to go to bed, because they were really bugging me.

Well, to be honest, I wasn’t totally clueless about why I was out of sorts. I’d spoken to my mom in the afternoon. Today she went in for an endoscopy, because she has some gallstones, apparently. She was feeling bad about having to go do this, because it meant having to leave my dad, who is home and on hospice care. He has cancer, and it’s beyond treatment. They have a nurse visiting twice a week.

We’re all going to Chicago this weekend. I don’t know whether it will be the last time I see my dad alive. To say I’m feeling a bit of dread would be putting it mildly. Though I’m glad we’re going and I know I’ll be glad we went, I’m apprehensive.

So I woke up this morning hoping that my planned run would lift my spirits. I met up with Susie (my running guru, you will recall), and it definitely helped (the run and seeing dear Susie). But something else happened that was sort of remarkable, in retrospect.

During our run I saw someone in passing who’s no longer in my life and whom I usually don’t see or have to see. I hadn’t had a glimpse of this person in almost a year, in fact. A few years ago, I wished very much that I had some sort of connection with the New Jersey mafia so I could put a hit out on him. You think I’m joking. Suffice it to say I had some very strong feelings.

This is someone whom I long ago decided I can’t and won’t forgive for how certain things happened. I spent a lot of time and energy on these negative feelings. At some point, I decided to stop. I realized that holding onto my anger was only hurting me. You know how that goes.

So as we passed today, the totality of my reaction was: Oh.

For real. Not even a single butterfly. Just a sort of disinterested oh. We did not interact (he made a point of that). That also had no effect on me.

After the run I had breakfast with my dear friend Nerissa, ran into a few other friends, and then picked up my daughter Sara at school and dropped her at a friend’s house to play. In the course of that hour I heard “Rio,” “I Melt With You,” and two pretty obscure Cure songs on the radio. I thought, Hmm, someone’s watching out for me somewhere.

And then I realized that my nonreaction this morning was proof positive that I’ve really let all that old stuff go. I did already know this, but it was reinforced, at a time when I’m feeling unsure and bracing for another big, tough situation. It’s all gone, released completely into the lovely spring air. And all my music was on the radio, further assuring me that I’m covered, that I’m being looked out for. There’s good, supportive energy flowing around me and through me.

At this point, my dear husband, who enjoys the role of devil’s advocate, would probably say something to the effect of, “You just want to interpret those things as messages or signs. That doesn’t mean anyone or anything is really sending you a message.” To him I would say — who cares? It doesn’t matter! And who’s to say the universe didn’t send them to me?

This afternoon I’m feeling lighter. Buoyed up.


My Om Tattoo

Tattoo number two is a done deal. It’s a simple black Om, on my inner right forearm. (The other one is on the inside of my left ankle; it’s a yin-yang-ish version of my zodiac sign, Cancer.) It took the guy 10 minutes, and the pain was completely bearable. We had a nice chat, and I even watched him put the ink in.

It looks gorgeous.

I felt kind of badass.

My lovely friend Miriam came with me, and we had lunch, a great walk around Montclair, and a browse around a used bookstore, too. Om, indeed.

Om (or Aum) is a sacred and mystical syllable in Indian religions. It is very often the first word of Hindu texts, because it’s an incantation to be intoned before (and after) a reading. It’s considered the name of God, or — and I love this — the vibration of the Supreme.

Om is the sound you chant at the beginning and end of yoga class. It’s a mantra. When everyone’s in sync, it sounds like a beautiful harmonic.

One of the things I really love about Om is the idea that it is “the primordial hum of the universe.” It’s the sound in the background, the constant buzz of life. I love that in a spiritual way, because for a long time I’ve considered God to be the higher order in the universe. The utter elegance of mathematics, all the symmetry in nature, and even the way analogies work in words are all proof to me that the universe is ordered on some level. That there’s a diffusion of spirit that keeps things going. Whether or not it has a consciousness, I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter to me. I like to think of it as disembodied, actually, as energy. And Om is the sound it makes.

For a while I was hesitant to get an Om tattoo. I wondered, is it kind of cliché? But then I started to think about it the way I think of my older daughter’s name. Kate is a very popular name, but I love it, and I’ve always loved it, and there was no question in my mind once we found out that she was a girl that it would be her name. Everyone else could have named their kid Kate too, and I’d still have chosen it. I didn’t get an Om just because I’m into yoga now. It really speaks to what I’ve believed for most of my life but didn’t really have a name for until I truly came to yoga and learned more about it.

When I was first considering it and tossing it around, a woman I know told me I should think about the fact that it would be there on my arm when my girls get married and I’m the mother of the bride. Like that would be a bad thing. I can’t remember if I asked her or just thought this: Why is it okay to wear a cross or a star around your neck but not to have an Om tattooed on your arm?

In the book Om Chanting and Meditation, author Amit Ray says:

Om is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos, whatever we can see, touch, hear and feel. Moreover, it is all that is within our perception and all that is beyond our perception. It is the core of our very existence. If you think of Om only as a sound, a technique or a symbol of the Divine, you will miss it altogether…. It is the eternal song of the Divine. It is continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.

I can’t really improve upon that.

One of my teachers said recently that chanting Om validates your place in the universe; it’s a way of saying I am here. What better reminder to have on the inside of my forearm?