Poem: My Religion ~ Judy Clement Wall

I read this poem in class the other day.  I am still getting students asking for it, so I wanted to share.

Some experiences in life exponentially gift us long after the point the of contact and while I was in Australia, having my own personal life experience, I was looking for ways to consume myself in something good rather than the engaging the petulance of my worried mind.

I found Judy Clement Wall.  She writes on her blog A Human Thing about Love, and I was drawn to it initially because of her Fearless Love project; a year of loving fearlessly.  Naturally, since I had engaged in my mere 14 days of Love I wanted to read what experience she had, so I downloaded her ebook.  From the moment I opened it I didn’t stop reading and this poem was embedded, right smack in the center.  I knew it would speak to so many.  So, I am sharing it globally and I would encourage anyone, for the price of 2 coffees!, to download her ebook.

Image
My religion
doesn’t involve a church or a minister or a pulpit;
it’s practiced under a roof of sky,
whispered by the wind,
preached by birds and crickets and rivers and toads.
My religion
isn’t written in scripture;
it’s written in the hearts of lovers
and parents
and artists
and everyone who,
broken from the weight of too many endings,
gets back up to love again.
My religion
lies at the point of contact,
where feet meet earth,
where inhale meets exhale,
where your infinitely breakable heart meets mine.
My religion
isn’t big on words like sin and wrong and perfect;
it’s big on honesty, vulnerability, messiness… awe.
The followers of my religion
are badass, open-hearted, hippie warriors of love,
who know that you don’t dance to get somewhere
or sing to reach the end of the song.
We sing and dance to reach what is
divine in all of us.
In love,
we are each other’s salvation.

Separating the art from the artist. Can we?

Last year I completed my 500hr Teacher training with my beloved teachers; Mitchel Bleier of mbyoga.com (p.s. there is a free downloadable class on his website….go to it, it’s great) and Donna Jackson and Tracy Bleier of Saraswati’s Yoga Joint.  It was 4 months of therapeutic training woven in with deep, intelligent, insightful and stirring conversation, meditation, pranayama and spontaneity.  I, of course, started the training around the same time that I had decided that yoga kind of bored me – it was indeed my way of staying only lightly committed.  So I dove in because, at 36 I am pretty aware of my ego tricks at this point and I know that when I get the urge to turn away, or run away, my best course of action is to do the opposite (unless it’s going to kill me of course).

Needless to say it turned my teaching around, re-ignited my love of the practice of yoga and connected me to a deeper sense of self.

At the end of it our final (of which I took way longer than necessary to hand in…old tricks do not completely die) was not so much about what we had learnt, but more about the kind of discussions we were having.  Because, let’s face it, how many times can you talk about the alignment of Trikonasana and do it any differently than the thousands of other teachers out there?  No, our teachers know that in order for us to carve out a place as a yoga teacher, conversation and inspiration and connection to our own ideas was what was necessary.  So, below is the final that I handed in.

It’s an open ended discussion – no right answer – and I’d love this post to be a conduit for discussion about this topic.

The Question: If yoga is life and life is art then can we or are we separating the art from the artist particularly as a yoga teacher?

 

“Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added.  Young men will adopt his gait.  Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls.  He will be condemned and adored.  His excesses damned and romanticized.  In the end, the truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artist.  It will not fall away.  Man cannot judge it.  For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.” Patti Smith ~ Just Kids.

Art holds a message of life.  It is an artist’s message.  Once connected to one’s true spirit art becomes the artists private conversation revealed; an offering to life itself.  To the artist, there are no exceptions, it has to be shared.  Like a deep breath, it has to be exhaled.  And while its origin can be named, its journey cannot.

Yoga is a practice of connection.  It is an art form that binds all the many things that are alive, together.  Yoga, to me, is about creating an artful life through the practice of choosing that which we connect up and to.  I don’t think yoga is life itself, I think it’s deeper than that.  There are many people who are in this life – who make no connections to their life, choosing instead a life of commonalities, learned behaviors and cookie cutter achievements.  The yogic, or artist’s life, on the other hand, neither has a single purpose or a decided destination.  Instead of being life Yoga stands next to you in life and says “I’m here, turn to me, and I’ll help piece together a life that you can call completely your own.  One that will be vivid in color and texture and flavors you’ve never even dreamed existed.” And from there, life imitates art.

Oscar Wilde once said “….the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.” 1

Life then becomes the expression for which all art can be shared.

Photo: Anna Moller

To the uninitiated, the yogi’s art is in the asana – the shapes formed, the shadows against an immense sky, the multi-dimensional views of the same thing.  But to the yogi, the art is in the surrender.  The yogi knows that to truly create an artful life, one that is connected and engaged, is to surrender to the experience not to separate ourselves from it but to simply become it.

As yoga teachers, we hold a very personal seat.  Our students come for the practice of asana, but mostly they come for the company of the teacher – those who return at least.  Our art then is to simultaneously guide a student safely in their body to allow space for that surrender and to impart a truth which we hold close to our hearts.  The art we chose to share then is the art of our own lives.  We create concepts for our students to shape for themselves, and to apply in their life, but those concepts have to hold meaning for us, in order for them to nestle deeply in our students own hearts.

I’m a yoga teacher.  I am an artist of life and my art is a message of life and of what I know to be true in my life.  What I teach is an artful way to live life, not life itself.

Whether those concepts are exactly the way I am living in my own life, are a vision for myself, or simply knowledge I know to be true, is inconsequential.  Rather, my message has to light me up authentically to hold value or to have any kind of transference.  Not to deny that hypocrites or people who talk in contradictions are not placed in our world, but this is not quality art.  Ultimately, while this can have popularity this is not art, it is mimicry and its life, as such, has an end.  True art feeds itself.  It sustains.  And what is authentic art?  It is unrehearsed, immeasurable, and forgettable for the artist.  Forgettable in the sense that the artist usually has no real, comprehensible collection of thought afterward, it usually ‘just happens.’

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her now popular TED.com talk about genius educates her audience about the ancient Greek and Roman idea of Genius.  She goes on to teach us that a genius was kind of a spirit fairy who lived side by side with us, or a spiritual character in our lives.  It is the belief that human beings weren’t the genius, but we all had one.  Everyone had their own personal creative attendant who helped us produce work, whether genius or not.  The true artists work then was simply to show up and offer oneself as the conduit for the creative work of his or her genius.  In short, the artist has to show up and then surrender.  Thus, the artist was detached from the work he or she produced.  This often explains the “I have no idea where that came from” when one has an ‘a-ha’ moment or produces work of an impeccable quality (one might argue when they don’t produce quality but, in my experience, when you’ve produced something you’re not so proud of you can usually retrace your steps and ‘understand’ the process.), or teaches a class that rocks worlds.

The artist then has to have the desire for something unknown and be willing to show up.  What they are not separate from, but fully responsible for, is their participation in something bigger than themselves.  What they have to connect to becomes something they can’t see, but have to trust exists.

A yogi is not separate from time on the mat, in meditation, or the practice of pranayama.  He, or she, is not separate from the act of seeking connection and relationship.  However, when they show up they aren’t guaranteed what they will find.  A yogi trusts in this ‘outer genius’ to illuminate the way forward, the next breath, the longer hold.  A yoga teacher, in order to be artful, must create relationships with their knowledge and then their students.  They must be willing to give up what they know in order to create more to know.  Their act of participating in their art lies then, in their listening.  But they are never guaranteed what is heard.

As a yoga teacher I have to participate in the art I produce; the class I teach, the lessons I choose to espouse, and the students I build relationships with.  Thus, I cannot be separate from it however, what I am separate from is how and when this shows up and then the life of my art.  I can labor my thoughts and ideas, experiencing contractions of good and bad, right and wrong, tears and joy, gains and losses.  What I ultimately deliver has connection to me but its umbilical cord weaves itself through interpretation and experience.

I think once an artist has produced their work, they essentially have given birth to a new world; a new life.  Like a parent and child, they have connection to each other but remain separate in order to create life.  So that life renews itself again and again.

There are many elements to a life and there are many ways to live a life.  For so many, living simply in the intellect is enough.  Occasionally feeling moments of spirit and instinct but reducing them simply to a good ‘smart decision’.  Afraid to step into that unknown, one will measure and seek to find comfort in result only, avoiding consequences that will challenge order.  An artist mines his spirit and soul to find experience only, understanding that sometimes the consequences might become his, or her, finest work.

An artist is at peace with his, or her, fear knowing it is fuel for one’s fire, it keeps their keen sense of instinct alert, preventing it from atrophy.  Such is the life of a yogi, stepping forward day after day into fear and unknown, flexing over and over again the muscle of knowing, without measure and without security.  Knowing how to engage in a world that is in flux and beyond one’s control and yet in reach all the time.

Human beings are a complex species, often said the most complex in this world (ironically said by other human beings!).  We are the only species, discovered so far, to have the ability to change our physical nature, live in varied environments, evolve spiritually and emotionally and extend our lives to live longer and longer with each generation.  At our very core we do this through our intellect and our instinct, and we engage in the world through our physical bodies, our thinking mind, our feeling heart, our untamed  spirit, our pure soul and, of course, a deep breath.

We are the ultimate, unfinished piece of art work, ever evolving and multi-dimensional.  Produced from a source that keeps distance and connection a choice for us to make but ultimately where all our art comes from.

A source that is so vast, its intelligence lies in its ability to be right in front of us at all times, yet always so secretly hidden.  So powerful it is everything all at once but seems to be nothing at all.  One that gives us choice to live a life where we can choose to connect with merely our mortal thoughts and judgments, fears, insecurities and inflated egos only, or to connect to something larger, and larger still.  And perhaps this very choice ultimately defines an artist.  Not someone who produces art but someone who can connect beyond what is seen or known.

An artist, a yogi, sees art before it exists.  They feel it and hear it from a source unknown and show up day after day, courageously renouncing protocol and accepted definitions so that they may interpret it for the mortal world.  And of that mortal world?  We are hungry for art.  We need it to escape, we need it to learn, to grow and think beyond a conditioned boundary.  If art is relevant to us, we will see beyond the artist and seek only to indulge ourselves in the art and be moved by it.

Some of the greatest artists of our time had less than honorable characters in the moral world, think Roman Polanski, O.J. Simpson and Pablo Picasso.  Despite what we know about them, personally, we can’t deny the relevance of their art, or talent.

So, while I don’t think an artist can be fully separated from his, or her, art I don’t think they can be fully responsible for it either.  It seems to me that, where so many parts of us can seem scrappy in the moral world, our art may just be the only way the best part of us can be expressed.  Perhaps, without art, the part of us that knows love and connection – the good part of us – has no other way to be seen.

I like to refer to Douglas Brooks quote “I am not you, I am something like you, I am nothing but you.”  Perhaps it can help us understand how we relate to art, as an artist when we look at it like this “I am not my art, I am something like my art, I am nothing but my art.”

Personally, I don’t want to separate myself from my art, I simply want to create a deeper, more respected, relationship with it.  I want to engage more in my life, so that I feed my art.  I want to find more places where I can surrender and listen more.  This, I know, ensures that I can continue to participate in the expression of my art.  Ultimately, I then participate fully in my life which, like all great works of art in the eye of the artist, is never fully complete.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_imitating_art

Fly.

This morning a moth caught itself in my bathroom,
it flapped its wings ferociously in search of sunlight.

I reached out and cupped it, gently in my hands.
My fingers, slightly apart to let the light in.

As I walked, from my bathroom to my opened living room window,
which is no doubt where it came from, I whispered gently.

“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…….” and when I got to the window
I held out my opened, outstretched hand and said, “Now fly you beautiful thing”

And, it did.

Poem: Shoulders ~ Naomi Shihab Nye

I came across this woman, Kari’s, lovely photo blog today.  I was immediately engaged in the simple images and taken by the things she sees; the hand gestures, the facial expression, the contrasts of color in our urban landscape.  I get excited when images and words cross boundaries, to meet.  I saw this photo and immediately thought of this poem.

Photo by karinemily.wordpress.com

SHOULDERS
~ Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in the rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

14 Days of Love: Day 11 ~ Poetry

This is the last poetry post for this project (not the last entirely) I couldn’t decide which to choose.  How do you choose a poem that best describes love?  Which, of the many, could possibly be the one?  😉  So, there is more than one.

SHE RESPONDED
~ Hafiz

The birds’ favorite songs
You do not hear,

For their most flamboyant music takes place
When their wings are stretched
Above the trees

And they are smoking the opium
Of pure freedom.

It is healthy for the prisoner
To have faith

That one day he will again move about
Wherever he wants,
Feel the wondrous grit of life –
Less structured,

Find all wounds, debts stamped canceled,
Paid.

I once asked a bird,
“How is it that you fly in this gravity
Of darkness?”

She responded,

“Love lifts
Me.”

OF LOVE
~ Mary Oliver

I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord.
Sometimes it was lasting, whether
active or not.
Sometimes it was all but ephemeral,
maybe only an afternoon,
but not less real for that.

They stay in my mind,
these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many.
You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet,
or maybe missed.

Love, love, love, it was
the core of my life, from which,
of course, comes the word for
heart.
And, oh, have I mentioned that
some of them were men and some were
women and some – now carry my revelation with you –
were trees.

Or places.  Or music flying above
the names of their makers.  Or clouds, or
the sun, which was the first, and the best,
the most loyal for certain, who looked
most faithfully into my eyes, every morning.

So I imagine
such love of the world – its fervency, it’s shining
it’s innocence and hunger to give of itself –
I imagine this is how it began.”

TO HAVE WITHOUT HOLDING
~ Marge Piercy

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling in the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they’re made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again.  It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold  and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice,
hunger and anger, moment by moment
balanced.

14 Days of Love: Day 6 ~ Poem: The Karma Sutra of Kindness, position #3

Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out… Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.  A. E. Housman

Often, I’ve been rendered breathless by a good poem.  As I work my down the elongated, odd arrangement of words I notice nothing else in the world, and I become completely immersed.  Over and over again I can read a good poem and it will never fail to have the same effect it did when I first came across it.  It is often the experience I have when engulfed in the feeling of love.

I don’t always understand, immediately, the meaning of the poem but that’s when I know it is for me.  Like A.E Housman said, perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.  This is the same way I feel about relationships.

Perfect love doesn’t require meaning and quite often though, when you’re in that state, it’s not until you step out of it that you try to look for meaning.  Or, perhaps rather, it’s when you try to look for the meaning in love is when you’re no longer enjoying it.

The lovely, Sarah McGrath submitted this poem for the 14 Days of Love series.  I think it perfectly describes what it means to be in a romantic relationship that is healthy, gritty, normal and full of love.

The Karma Sutra of Kindness: Position #3
Mary Mackey

It’s easy to love
through a cold spring
when the poles
of the willows
turn green
pollen falls like
a yellow curtain
and the scent of
Paper Whites
clots
the air.


but to love for a lifetime
takes talent

you have to mix yourself
with the strange
beauty of someone
else
wake each morning
for 72,000
mornings in
a row so
breathed and
bound and
tangled
that you can hardly
sort out
your arms
and
legs


you have to be willing to move through
life
together
the way the long
grasses move
in a field
when you careen
blindly toward
the other side


there’s never going to be anything
straight or predictable
about your path
except the
flattening
and the springing
back


you just go on walking for years

hand in hand
waist deep in the weeds
bent slightly forward
like two question
marks
and all the while it

burns
my dear
it burns beautifully above
you
and goes on
burning
like a relentless
sun

14 Days of Love: Day 1 ~ Poem: David Whyte. True Love

In 14 days, around 5pm there are going to be scores of men holding flowers.  Cars will be lined up alongside small, roadside stands announcing ‘Valentines Flowers Here’, 24hour convenience stores will be out of cheap chocolate – a few bags of Hershey’s kisses will lay along anemic looking metal shelves, as casualties in the war between supply and demand.  Bouquets of roses and tulips and Gerber Daisy’s will be clutched between hopeful palms, and I will not be able to get a seat at the bar of my local restaurant because it will be filled with those same hopeful palms which will be rested on a thigh, clutching at possibility.

Ah, Valentines Day!  Only once have I done the prescribed ‘get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant on a fancy date with a boyfriend and celebrate our love.’  The then boyfriend and I decided it wasn’t for us – we both felt like we were being phony and, to be honest, we were.

However, I do love the notion of the day.  The idea that, as a collective, we get to celebrate someone special in our lives.  The only thing I am against is the Hallmark notion of what Love is supposed to look like.  Or, moreover, how you’re supposed to behave as an example of true love.  I tend to think it is a bit grittier than that, which makes it all the more exciting really.

Anyway – just because  I have the word LOVE in my blog name I am going to post something every day in the spirit of it!  Inspired by Love and all it’s many ways.  Poems, Playlists, Interviews and stories, even food ideas…they’ll all go up, one day at a time for the next 2 weeks, building up to the super, explosive, grand daddy, post on the day…….that sequence kind of sounds familiar no?.

You ready? Oh – and if you feel like you want to share something – email me: lyn.girdler@gmail.com –

Poem ~ David Whyte

TRUE LOVE

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have waited years
and especially if you never believed
you could deserve this loved
and beckoning hand this way.

I am thinking of faith now,
and the testaments to loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals,

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
So biblically,
but  more subtly
and intimitaly in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,

so that when you finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown, you could,
but you don’t,

because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years,
you don’t want to any more,
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning,
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

The wise Rilke

I have been cleaning my apartment and, as usually happens I go to put a book back on my shelf only to be seduced by another and the next thing you know I’m on my blog, compelled to share.  Procrastinating basically – but hopefully with a little more effect than simply reading.

From “Letters to a young poet” (Letter #4)

If you will cling to Nature, to the simple in Nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and that can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you, not in your intellect, perhaps, which lags marveling behind, but in your inmost consciousness, waking and cognizance.  You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unresolved (this is the money quote btw!) in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day to the answer.

I love this quote, every time I read it, because it is such a simple reminder that life will always have questions – that’s actually how we move forward and grow and build knowledge, we ask questions.  However, sometimes I feel like any struggle we ever face is because we are working too hard to find the answers instead of allowing them to just arrive.  In the middle of the night, or while washing dishes or after a brief and random conversation with a new friend, or during a long walk in nature….which is where the answers usually show up.  When we least expect them too.

Do you trust that process?  That process of our natural emotional evolution?  Or, do you expend so much effort  finding and forcing an answer, only to look and back and think “I wish I had waited a bit” or “in hindsight, I would have….”

So much of what we need to learn is process, and patience, not necessarily gather more information.  That too comes when we least expect it.