Playlist: 6:15pm open class 7/25

This playlist I called “A drum beats”.  I don’t know why I called it that – I mean there’s a heavy bass line throughout this list but, it’s not from the sound of a lot of drums.  I often name my playlist’s based on the first sentence that pops into my head as soon as I hit ‘create a playlist’.  Hence, I have playlist names like ‘Abundant Moon’, ‘Emotional Retard’, ‘It’s a flawed argument’, ‘soul breathing’ and ‘PMS’d off’

Anyway, here is my ‘A drum beats’ playlist bought to you because Maryellen, a really devoted and committed yogi, made a point to compliment me on it.  So this, really, is to celebrate her and for her commitment to her practice and to showing up for herself over and over again.

And she has a kick arse back bend and rock-solid relationship with her family.

No Sand in my lipbalm ~ Moqita

La Femme Parallel (feat LouLou) ~ Thievery Corporation

Le Booty Cinematique ~ J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science Om Lounge

(I had a hard time finding an official version of this song on you tube, so I am using a commercial it is in)

3am ~ Naked Music NYC

Love is Everything ~ Naked Music NYC

Mouthful of Diamonds ~ Phantogram

Final Home ~ DJ Crush (feat Esthero)

Only You ~ Portishead

All I Need ~ Air

Lotus Flower ~ Radiohead

The End (kopfhorer Chill Remix) ~ Tube-tich

Eg Anda ~ Sigur Ros

I meditate to avoid being an asshole ~ by Vicky Cook

I introduced you to Vicky last year when I wrote about the reiki treatment she gave me.  I really dig this woman and love what she has to offer.  She has a committed meditation practice and has taught meditation series’ for a while now.  Meditation is gaining recognition in mainstream society.  It’s necessary.  We’re barreling forward, like a fast-moving train, toward a life of complete connection to machines and devices and technology.  To a lifestyle where, each moment between awake and asleep is filled with projects and tasks or pressure, stress and trying to achieve better and more of whatever it is we think we need, and want.  The problem then, is that we are not spending enough time doing nothing. 

Meditation then serves as a practice, not of checking out, but of checking in to ensure that all the ‘more of’ that you’re doing, is actually serving you.  Meditation helps create the life you want, not check out of the life you have.  Here, Vicky tells us her journey through meditation, gives us some tips and resources and takes the mystery out of the practice.

When Lyn asked me to write a piece on Mediation I was surprised, I practice meditation, I’ve taught meditation but I never really considered myself an expert on meditation.  I sat down to write this and many thoughts flooded my mind (this happens when I sit down to meditate too…)  and I wanted to write a prolific piece on the many benefits of meditation, the beauty and peace of the practice, but a voice kept coming to me WHY do you meditate, why?

So, time to get honest. I meditate mostly to avoid being an asshole.  When I don’t meditate I find I am often annoyed, slightly irritated by local traffic, I am impatient with my son and can be quite a smarmy bitch to my husband.  This isn’t my regular behavior by nature, I believe I am a kind-hearted and compassionate person. I’ve created or learned some pretty gnarly coping mechanisms early on in my life to deal with deep insecurities and retraining myself not to react but to act has been a lifelong process.

Simply put meditation is a necessity for me, it is not by some virtue that I found the practice; it was out of desperation and desire that I found it.  There is a saying I heard early on in my journey “religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for people who have been there”.  I had been there and meditation is a way out.  

I picked up my first book on meditation almost 20 years ago, its concepts and ideas were leap years beyond anything my mind could comprehend and I clearly was not ready, but the seed was planted.  I have found myself, over the years, drawn to meditation in strange ways but they always seemed to be attached to a deeper commitment than I was ready to make.  About 15 years ago I was introduced to Raj Yoga and attended weekly meditation for a brief time, but they were recruiting for their center in NY and the rebel in me still wouldn’t let me join anything. I did find I liked the way I felt after our weekly meetings and desired that feeling for many years to come.

I found Reiki & Yoga about 10 years ago and that began my real practice of a consistent meditation.  Coming to a regular practice is hard; I have had some resistance towards it for most of these years.  My spiritual experiences have always come as more of the educational variety anyway, and so has it been with meditation.  This has been a benefit because it has allowed me to slowly evolve and steep myself more into an authenticity I never knew existed.  It has allowed a process of becoming rather than just changing.  I am who I am meant to be at this exact moment and I even believe that some of the time!

How do you do it, you ask?  I’ve learned all you have to do is just sit and be quiet and you can do this anywhere.  But… when you are beginning you should create a ritual (a set time, so you have something to commit to) create a space, I have an altar, but this can be a chair in your favorite room, you can have candles, a deity or any other object that softens your heart  Right now I mediate on my beautiful porch overlooking an English garden.  I found it easier to start in a quiet space with very little distraction.  Now, on my porch I hear cars go by, birds chirping and general neighborhood noise which I embrace, it teaches me I can find stillness anywhere. Next, set a timer, as little as 5 minutes a day can make a difference. I’ve found that rarely is my mind ever void of thought, so don’t get discouraged when you start creating lists or when random thoughts invade your space.    The practice of meditation isn’t to become void, but to become as “full”y present as you can be in each moment.  It teaches you to act rather than react, to begin to know yourself, without judgment, but with clears eyes and an open heart.

Some techniques that helped me out early on were to simply count my breath, it was the first real deliberate meditation practice I was consistent with. It gave me something to do while I was trying to be (you can’t go from “doer” to “be-er” overnight).  I tried a Zen meditation where you count to ten and then begin again, this never worked for me as I would always go past ten then berate myself for not doing it right. Counting my breaths 108 times (a single breath being a complete cycle of inhale and exhale) was a regular practice at the beginning.  I’ve used mantra which is also very powerful.  This can be a Sanskrit mantra or just a positive statement such as I am peaceful, I am happy, I am loved, I am abundant or I am here.  Just the repetition of a beautiful phrase in and of itself is healing, but repetition is where the true practice of meditation begins.

Many people close their eyes during meditation, which was very helpful for me early on.  I now practice with a steady downward gaze my eyes looking over the bridge of my nose a foot or two in front of me.  This is a common practice for meditation in Reiki which is my regular practice. There are other meditation techniques in Reiki I use and they can be found in the Japanese Art of Reiki http://us.ihreiki.com/shop/product/the_japanese_art_of_reiki. My Reiki teacher has a new meditation CD out with guided meditations and is very helpful when you are first beginning (or something fresh for the seasoned practitioner), it takes all the guessing out of it http://www.thereikijourney.com/The_Reiki_Journey/Welcome.html. If you prefer print, I am currently reading Be the Change by Deb and Ed Shapiro which shares personal experiences from many modern-day practitioners http://www.amazon.com/Be-Change-Meditation-Transform-World/dp/1402760019.  There are many great resources and ways to meditate, but the only way to begin is to begin. Ask people around you, read excerpts on Amazon, find guided meditations, anything you desire, there are many resources, just look.

I’ve found meditation is strong and grounding, which surprised me when I started. It should help immerse you into the world, or perhaps it will be a bridge to find your place with in it.  Either way the practice of meditation is never about moving away from the world, but finding your true “seat” within it.  Don’t expect anything, don’t expect a quiet mind or a more peaceful life, don’t ask it for anything.  Meditation will give you more than you ever knew existed, I promise.

**If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll like this one too: “What is all this savasana & meditation stuff anyway?”

Show Review: Valerie June

Engaging, prolific, charismatic, compelling, captivating, beautiful, funny, unique, distinctive, charming, understated, humble, soulful…I mean Soul. Full!

I’m having trouble choosing the one or two words which best describes Valerie June, and her music.  Except the word soulful – the 2nd one where I break it apart so it reads like her soul is full – but then, perhaps I am just describing how my soul felt after watching Valerie June at Rockwood Music Hall on Sunday night.

All these words could do her justice and would give you an accurate representation of her, but they wouldn’t completely describe her, or her music.

I was introduced to Valerie June, earlier in the year, from a conversation with a good friend who is fluent in the music industry.  He had caught her show at SxSW in Austin earlier this year and had told me how captivated he was.  Being a music ‘go to’ person for me, (his ipod takes precedence over mine) he is always introducing me to someone I hadn’t heard of before but there was something in the way he said her name that made me take note.  I felt compelled to do my research.

And I found this:

I know!  That’s how I felt.

So then I booked tickets to see her with The Wandering at Joe’s pub earlier in the year and heard this:

(Yes, that’s Luther Dickinson closest to the screen and yes, he’s playing 3 strings fashioned from a coffee can.  This is not Valerie singing but you have to hear Sharde’s voice – incredible.)

and then Valerie’s solo

Again.  I know!  But it was a mere taste and, while I knew Valerie June could share a stage I had an inkling that, on her own, she would totally own one.  On Sunday night, that she did.

When you first encounter Valerie it’s not hard to feel slightly intimidated.  She’s got that Amazonian height and Giacometti like body, all long and lean and lithe with a heavy crown of dreadlocks, like fat snakes, coiled endlessly atop her head and slithered across her shoulders.  In a word, Medusa comes to mind; If Medusa was really sweet, smiled a lot and her fierceness was in the way she holds a note, not in her desire to castrate.

There doesn’t seem to be anything angry, or intimidating, about Valerie June (but then, I reckon that southern charm could whip you around pretty quickly and she’s got a head full of fat dreadlocks that could take you down in seconds.)

Her music is described as organic moonshine roots music “hers is a twilight voice, a liquid silk from the heart of Tennessee” as the bio on her website describes.  All of it true but, and despite being a lover of words, trying to put music into words is sometimes not enough.  Whether you can accurately describe Valerie, or her music, it seems that you’ll come up with a similar description of both.

There are few artists, who I watch live, who can literally step into a song and make no separation between themselves and the music.  I’ve watched many great shows where I have felt entertained, and impressed, or where the artist seems to be ‘presenting’, or gifting their music to an audience – separating themselves from what they’ve created…”Here’s a song for you” but in Valerie’s music, and her presence, you become part of something all-encompassing, in the most uplifting, beautiful way.

Valerie June rocks out a note!  That girl pulls something from the depths of the earth, greets it with a smile and then coats it with her own distinct sound.  She can hold a note and stretch it so it sounds so metallic and penetrating it almost sounds like the chord of the banjo she plays.  It’s really just beautiful.  Could that be a description enough?  nope, still doesn’t feel right.

I had invited my friend Erin to the show and on our ride home, both speechless after the show, we put her CD into the car player (after we had bought ALL her CD’s) wound down our window, the summer’s night air whipping through our hair, and barely spoke (except to request a 2nd round of a song) the entire time.

Maybe that sums it up.

Here is a link to her website and videos of the Sunday night show follow.

(as I was combing through the webs looking for info I came across this site dedicated to dreadlocks.  Her locks were being profiled.  But the best thing about this article is the comment about the woman who called to find out where her Valerie June CD was…I think it gives a better insight as to who she is).
 
 
 
 

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.

I saw the meaning of life…..

I am staring at a blank screen.  I take a deep breath.  I settle.  I need to take another one.  I settle again.  I decide just to type this, a stream of consciousness, since anything else seems too forced, too far reaching.  Inauthentic?  Not sure.

Right now Olafur Arnalds is playing on my ITunes.  I recently tweeted that his music, to me, is the sound of a deep breath; if it could play the piano (or an orchestra).  I need this music in the background to keep me from not moving; to a new screen, to wash the dishes, to make a phone call.  It’s keeping me still.  Here.

I am delaying because it almost feels too big to write, what it is I want to write.

What do I want to write?

That I was witness to the healing power of Love?  Ugh! Too cheesy, too obvious, too…..I don’t know…..common?

That I saw the meaning of life?  Yeah, but now I just feel too pompous though it’s a little closer to the truth.

That I saw the meaning in Love?  I’ll stick with that.  For now.

The violin is being played now and it makes the whole room ache for something to hold on to.  Now the piano, one key at a time, like a little child tippy-toeing across the room, playfully, to scare an adult.  Who already knows the child is coming.   Afterwards they will laugh wildly, unabashedly.  Since, children bring that out.

Anyway – I digress.  If, in my last post I was crying for no reason but a simple feeling of self-induced disconnect, in this post I would be crying for the unadulterated feeling of complete connection. Except, I’m not crying, I’m astonished.  It’s wild what lies ahead for us.  What we cannot foresee.  What we can’t even imagine possible.

I’ve learnt this week that, regardless of how hard we strive, you’ll always be lead to what you’re meant to learn.

The day after my birthday, exactly 2 weeks ago, my Mum, who was visiting from Australia, called me early in the morning.    My Nan had taken a turn after her operation and the hospital had called my Pa, and a priest.  She didn’t have long.  My mum changed her flight and left that day, leaving me to wonder what to do.  Do I wait for a funeral, or do I go right away?

I went right away.  I flew out on a Sunday night and arrived by her bedside on Tuesday night (Australian time).  In the meantime my family and I; Aunts, uncles, cousins, brother, sister etc., reached out to each other, in a way we hadn’t before, to stay informed of our movements, and update on her progress.  Her progress was never good.

Since most of our family are scattered around the country, the decision to go to her was not easy.  Leaving work obligations and considering financial strains were all considered, weighed up, and then made insignificant against the need to be by her side.  The family rallied.  We were all headed to her bedside.  My sister, a single mother, and my brother bundled up my niece, jumped in the car and drove the 2 days from Melbourne to Brisbane.  My Nan’s own brothers and sisters drove 2 days to Brisbane.  Cousins flew in, Uncles and Aunts flew in and the family members who were local kept vigil for the family, bearing the initial burden of a worry that had wrapped itself around us all.

We were coming together.  Ironically, it was the reunion my Nan would have dreamed about.

But this wasn’t a dream.

Here’s what you should know about my Nan.  She is a warrior.  A true warrior of love and faith and spirit, with a fierce love of her family.  Tough, for sure, I mean this woman vacuums out her oven.  That doesn’t sound like a kick-arse kind of action but let me tell you, you never want to mess with a woman who keeps her castle that tidy.  Fun was had, after the dishes were put away!  She’s always known her worth, and when my Pa tried to court her, 61 years ago, she gave him the run around for weeks.  She recently told me “I was never going to be easy!”  Nor was she going to be a “farmer’s wife” she wanted a grander life than that.

My Pa was grand!

This is another thing you should know about my Nan.  She is a woman of faith.  She’s a devout Catholic, with Irish blood.  Now you know her warrior spirit.  She told us all that week that nothing fazed her, whatever was in God’s hands she has accepted and she’ll fight but, she was in pain and didn’t have much in her and in the end, she said, ‘it was up to him’.  We told we loved her no matter how much fight she had and then we went to the chapel and prayed.

As it happens, when you’re staring into the jaws of grief, something bigger takes over.  Vulnerability; you see men fight tears.  Courage; you hug more; hold tighter, you say sorry (or not).  Perspective; you realize the bad never seemed that bad, you think of an empty space and how you’ll fill it.  Nostalgia; the good times are gold.  Faith; you suddenly know you need it.

As each day passed, as time filed passed us minute after minute, we waded through, waiting.  Every day a new member of the family arrived, or news of another person arriving filled the conversations.  It was a constant stream of arrivals and with each person, her eyes got brighter.  Her body was barely there, but her spirit kept showing up.

By Thursday, almost a week after the call, the doctors had told us there was no change in her condition and it was ‘only a matter of days’ which, heard through the commotion of grief and worry, translated to only a matter of days to live.  “A kick in the guts” my Pa called it for he was, amongst us all, the most faithful in her recovery, without the protection of a God.  A conversation with the doctors later that morning shifted perspective a little bit when it turned out that the ‘matter of time’ should have been, had a regular civilian delivered the news, ‘we have to wait and see what happens.’

Suddenly now, any hope we reserved was insignificant to the faith and belief we now had.  She had a chance.  So, we had a BBQ and drank a lot (we are Australian, don’t judge).

It’s interesting how the sequence of hearing news can be so impactful in how it’s received.  Perhaps, if we’d originally believed we just had to ‘wait and see’, we wouldn’t have felt so free to relax around the BBQ and celebrate the family stories that night.  Perhaps, faith would have given way to impatience.  But, because the first bit of news was so heavy, it made the new translation so much lighter.  My Pa’s face was priceless that night as he basked in the family that he and Nan have created, my sister particularly holding court (one of the funniest people in the world to me).

The next day I woke and thought; “F@*k positive thinking.  It’s unnecessary when you believe.”

By Friday every one of her closest family members (but two cousins, who were very missed) would have arrived by her bedside.  After this, we all surmised, she would decide her path.  After this, we would wait and see what happens.

So, what happened?  On Saturday she got up and walked.  Her swelling went down, they reduced the pain medication and they moved her condition from acute & critical only a week ago, to stable.  The doctors were amazed, baffled even.  The character in her face came back and we knew she had her life fight back when she started ordering Pa around and joking (teasing) the doctors.  She has quite a wit.  Surprised?

By Sunday night we were resting easy.  As the family filled my grandparent’s back yard for a BBQ (no shrimp on the ‘barbie’! – I know you Americans love to ask – but my Aunts insanely delicious prawn fritters! ), I noted to myself ‘my Nan would love this, she lived for her family and now, it’s her family that has helped her live.’ (I’m also pretty sure she was going bananas knowing that we weren’t vacuuming the oven and she heard I set the fire alarm off cooking my Pa breakfast!)

I’ve been writing about love for a while now. Exploring it, cursing it, struggling to find it sometimes and just like that, it showed up.  Again!

On the morning after I saw my Nan for the first time I wrote this to a friend:

“I saw the meaning of life in my grandmother’s eyes last night as we took each other’s hand, she held mine tight like she did when I was a little girl and she looked right into my eyes and said everything, without saying a word.  Love, gratitude, the power of family, of commitment, of faith and of staying true to one’s own meaning of that.  When she spoke, she told me how lucky she was, how lucky she felt and we talked about all the little things we did when I was a child, all the long walks we went on and the plants we planted – which never took, they were too exotic for a household garden.  We talked about the power of music, she loves Irish music.

I watched her, and watched my grandfather and the 61 years of being together that lay in between them and realized that this is the moment that counts.   All of the questions, the pain, the enduring and fighting and wondering what will happen – none of it matters and the only thing to know for sure is that this will happen and  when you’re close, do you feel lucky, and did you know Love?”

Olafur played twice.

I’m crying. Again?! (but don’t worry, it’s all good!)

On Saturday I had one of ‘those’ days where it felt like the whole world was conspiring to keep me feeling shut out.  Every person I called (last minute) already had plans or didn’t pick up their phone (no one picks up their phone anymore and I haven’t released the memo that I am calling more often and texting a lot less).  For various reasons It was one of those cry into a pint of ice-cream kind of nights (literally.)  It was so cliche I could have been in the latest Jennifer Aniston flick (does she even have one out?  I have no idea – but I would have been one of her cheesy, painful characters).

It’s comical to look back, now miles away from those feelings.  Thinking back it’s like watching a character being played by me wondering who the hell that chick was.  It was so dramatic that when I went to the grocery store to pick up the ice-cream (the only thing I bought) the girl behind the check-out asked if that would be all, my response was (with tears streaming down my face) “Should I get another pint?”  She didn’t answer and proceeded to ask if I wanted a bag.

“No, thank you, a bag is not necessary.”

“Do you need a spoon?” she asked kindly.

I considered it for a moment then responded “it’s not that bad, but thanks anyway”

I went home and decided to watch Breaking Bad on Netflix, a T.V. series that was recommended to me four separate times in one week. While the show is phenomenal, I was basically watching the downward spiral of another human completely f*@king up at being a human and it just left me feeling depressed and anxious.  I was feeling failed all on my own, so I turned it off and decided to write instead.  Random thoughts, mini edits, idle words with no purpose.  I basically gave up any attempt at being happy that night and, you know what?  I felt really freaking great the next day!

Now, before you throw a pity party for me – I’m fine – there was no major catastrophe, I have a roof over my head, my friends are amazing, I have work, I have food in my fridge, no major accidents or injuries.  Just a little burnt out on over-thinking and over-achieving really.  Yes, I’m turning 36 in a few days and we all know what happened around last year’s birthday, but actually I’m feeling great about the new number, so no tears around that.

No, sometimes tears don’t need an event.  They just need to be released once in a while, for while the world is amazing and beautiful and hopeful and full of blessings….it can also bloody suck! (oh god I hope that doesn’t deem me a failed yoga teacher now too ;))

I am revealing this for no particular reason but to give permission for you, if necessary, to do the same.  You see, there’s a whole heap of talk out there about cheering up, learning lessons, being grateful for the bad stuff and being the champion for your dreams.  I’m the first to admit – I’m all over that sh#t – clearly!  But I have to tell you, I purged on Saturday night and I reckon I birthed Satan (after feeding him Ben & Jerry’s!) and no amount of self-help talk was appropriate.

To be sure, I hardly remember what it was that I was crying about and whatever it was turned into crying for the pain of the world.  I was crying of the kids in Africa in war zones, for parents who have lost children, for single mothers doing it on their own, for all the heartbreaks and disappointments and missed family. I think I might have even cried for the loss of my dog jimmy when I was 11years old and our little bird Aussie who we only had for 3 days before he ate himself to an obesity induced death.  It was a session I tell you!

It was extremely cathartic and cleansing and I think we should do more of it but here’s the thing, it felt great all on my own.  No need to reach out, no need to call a friend, no need to talk and put it out into the world.  It was nice to take myself down, ice-cream on my chin and all, all by myself and then – pick myself back up again.

I’ve written about the power of a good cry here, I’m revisiting it again because crying is good.  It’s healthy and necessary and so good with ice-cream!

Birthday week playlist

I am really excited about what I’ve been listening to lately, so I wanted to share (be patient with the download….it takes a while (really only a minute…funny how that seems so long these days – Great music though, so hang out)

Cold Specks – Lay me Down

MS MR – Hurricane

Mast – UpUpUp

Thieving Irons – So Long (entire album is amazing)

Alabama Shakes – you ain’t alone

Valerie June – I will not be blue

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

Modern Love feature in NY Times.

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning is to sit with a coffee and read the NY Times.  It’s the bulkiest paper of the week, chock full of articles and stories and features and images.  I love Bill Cunningham’s On the Street; a quick morsel of real life fashion and style from the street’s of NY.  He has been capturing candid street style for more than 40 years, I would highly recommend watching the documentary made of him.

Quintessential Bill Cunningham

But that only takes a few minutes of my newspaper read.  What I look forward to most is the Modern Love feature.  Each Sunday there is a submission by a regular, writer (not employed by the NY Times) about their trials through Love.  And you know how much I love to think about that topic!  What I find the most attractive about this column is the diversity of writing styles and, of course, the window into all the many real life relationships I get to peak into.  This includes the trials and tribulations and, sometimes, observations that come along with it.  While I enjoy the writing and the storytelling, each week I am reminded that there is no right way nor is there a formula for real, modern love.  From spousal sex changes, to long distance heart-break, to first love reunions and many other stories, I devour each article with the same slow, appreciative sips I usually reserve for my only coffee of the day.

This week’s article was  no different.  I thought it appropriate to share, based on my last post about game-changers.  I suppose my theme is often about looking at things in a different light.  Sometimes we can be so myopic about our own life-story, even when it involves another person, that we forget to look at another’s side.  Again, it’s so easy to justify our misery, or our wounds and what people ‘did to us’ that we fail to acknowledge that we had, and continue to have, a role in the way things play out.

Check out the article – I think you’ll know what I am talking about.

A visit, and what really happened.

Game changers.

Game-changer: a person, an idea or an event that completely changes the way a situation develops

Game changer is my new ‘word.’  If you’re in my circle of friends you might hear me say “that could be your game changer” or “those shoes?  Game changer!”

It basically keeps you engaged and actionable (sorry, hate that word too!) in your life because, without one, it’s easy to stay committed to your misery.  A game changer is basically a condensed version of the ‘if you keep you thinking the same way, you’ll get the same results’ adage.  In other words, if you’re complaining about something – you need a game changer.

It’s your sliding doors moment and it can be something simple like trying a new grocery store – the one an extra mile away, or more obvious and complicated like quitting your job and taking a life sabbatical.

A few years ago, after a 7 year waiting period, I received my green card.  The wait, however, was painful and exhausting and all-consuming.  Close to the end, I became slightly obsessed with research and working to find out all that I could in the hopes that I might find the answer to speed up the process.  My days went like this: wake up, check email, INS website, green card chat rooms, shower, go to work, check email, INS website, green card chat rooms, do my work, google things related to ‘green-card’, go for a walk at the beginning of my lunch break to return and eat my lunch at my desk and check INS website, green card chat rooms and google anything related to green card.  You get the drift.  I, of course, thought my research was helping me and informing me but it was actually hindering me and worse – I was stressed to the point of physical pain.

At the beginning of 2008, my first day back at work for the new year I decided I needed a new tactic.  “Where could I create more joy in my day?” was my question.  I knew I needed down time so I decided that I would give myself only one 1/2 hour time slot for green card each day.  I would also sit quietly, away from my computer to eat, and enjoy my lunch each day.  That was my game changer.  Sounds simple right?  But try telling that to someone who is so justified in their stress.  So, guess what happened that first day?  As I sat and ate my lunch away from my desk, feeling relaxed, I heard my little ’email’ notification pinging away on occasion and decided that it could all wait until I had my break.  I returned to my desk and, you guessed it.  I got my greed card.

A game changer is a change of habit.  We all have them, from the time we wake up, to what and where we eat breakfast, to the same newspaper section or online pages we check, to the route we take to work (or not) to the type of shops we go in, the yoga classes we take, the teacher we only listen to, the genre of music we listen to and books we read.  For some, we keep a hairstyle, a clothing style, a pair of earrings, a perfume…..we’ve all had the experience of people noticing when we change these things.  If you’re going through a break-up and, after a reasonable amount of time for grief, you still can’t get over it – you need a game changer.  Same thing if you’re looking for a partner, maybe you need a game changer in your technique, or attitude.

For someone like me, who is somewhat stubborn and intelligent enough to justify why things weren’t working out the way I wanted them to, I hired a life coach.  I get a serious game-changing ass kick every month and every time, I get results that change my life course (in fact, I might just go ahead and drop the ‘life coach’ title – it feels diluted at the moment with all the ‘life coaching’ out there…it’s kinda the new yoga teaching.  I might just call her my game changer!)

I think you get the drift.  Don’t make it complicated, it’s just going to give you a different perspective – or view – and that’s what changes the game.

p.s. If you like this, please share – that would totally be my game changer!