Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Bones

Halloween has me thinking about putting old bones to rest--as in skeletons in the closet. These are thought forms we haven't dealt with and so they could pop out like boogie men with the right triggering situation. Like when someone asks me to do something, and I get really embarrassed to say, "no"--it's an overwhelming feeling. And I'm sure it comes from childhood. Next time I just want to be cool with myself saying "no thanks" if that's what I want. Weird. Why do I do that?

I think about Carrie from the movie (1976). She just couldn't stay buried after she died, because she could not get the love she wanted in life. The kids made fun of her. Her mom had her feeling like a freak. Poor Carrie. And nobody seemed to learn anything from her death.

In sharp contrast, I saw an amazing play of The Brothers Karamazov, adapted from the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. (Stop reading, and come back later, if you are definitely seeing it and don't want anything "spoiled.") The kids teased and threw rocks at one little boy who got sick and died.  At his grave the kids were there and one boy said to another something like he wishes he could forget the boy existed. Alyosha stepped in and asked them to remember the life of the good little boy who was in the ground now, and to never treat another so badly. If we can only learn from the obscene experiences in life, we can get something from it. We can grow and become better people.

I wish the kids in "Carrie" could have learned from Sissy Spacek's character's death. I know some people would tell me that that's not the point of that movie. They might say that "Carrie" is a biting cultural criticism and there is no redeeming value. But how can this be? Something can be made out of every crappy situation. If we can't then life is hopeless. Now I don't mean that every story needs a happy ending. For example the little boy buried in "The Brothers Karamazov" stays dead, but the children learn and go eat pancakes. Life is okay here. But, at the end of "Carrie" her cold hand reaches out of the dirt craving more life because nobody made any sense of her death.

Things that are scary:

1. Living in the past.

2. Not learning from mistakes.

3. Being stuck. This is related to 1 and 2.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Welcome, Emotions!

My new class, LifeForce yoga is going really well. Students are courageously experiencing themselves honestly. This is “feel your feelings” yoga.

In a recent class, one person laughed a few times. Another had tears after savasana. And yet another wasn’t experiencing any dramatic emotion. As teacher, I encourage the experience of emotion when it naturally shows up in class. I say, let it run its course. During yoga practice is a safe time to do this.

According to Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. (My Stroke of Insight), when emotions are triggered, it takes 90 seconds for the emotion to show up, “surge through” the body, “and then be flushed out” of the blood stream. Physiologically, the experience can be short, but if a person hooks into the emotion mentally it can last much longer. So, there is a choice when working with the emotions.

In yoga practice (as well as in life), I can be empowered by this information. When an emotion comes up, and I realize that I’ve been triggered, I then bring my attention to the physical experience and breathe. This allows me to experience the feeling as it moves through me, and honors my truth (which I can choose to act on when timing is appropriate).

But, if I focus only on the story lines that might come up about why I’m feeling this way, it can give my mind too much power, thereby continuing to trigger and even intensify the emotional response of my body. My choice is to bring my attention to the ever-changing flow of feelings in my body to help me clarify my mental, physical, and emotional space.

This process is spiritual house cleaning, clearing the space for me to connect authentically with myself, instead of confusing old wounds for my essential being. Potentially, this is also laying groundwork that strengthens my overall personality structure.

Feet embrace the solid ground, spirit soars, heart loves, and hands create in service of spirit. When I can walk in the world in this embodied and connected way, the experience of life is uplifting, and I am a positive energy source.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Letter to Barack Obama


Dear Barack Obama,

I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s (Madelyn Dunham’s) illness. My heart goes out to you. And at the same time I am inspired by your decision to interrupt your campaign to go see her. In fact it makes me proud to be an American to see the Democratic nominee for President honor a grandmother in this way. Go and get her blessing. I feel so strongly about this because my grandmother was special, too.

My grandmother, Doris Ekhardt Rideout (Nana to me), taught me the wisdom in listening, for listening is love. Throughout my life Nana patiently and lovingly listened to my ideas, both the good ideas, and the not-so-good ideas. In her listening there was a sense of care, excitement (like bubbly joy) and curiosity. Her ability to listen was absolutely unwavering and nonjudgmental. There were times when I felt I was challenging her sensibilities by what I was saying, but she stayed curious, and never shut me down. This allowed me to trust her and to open up more and share more than I had planned on, and sometimes more than I knew was there. She was always happy to hear from me. She honored my being here in a way that I cherish deeply. This relationship was built over my lifetime, until Saturday, March 03, 2007 when she left her body. For me, this experience of having been witnessed in this way by someone for so many years was the best gift in my life.

Listening creates space for the person who is being listened to. This space creates room for us to see who we are, and when we listen to each other with a sense of openness, joy and curiosity there is even more potential for us to learn and grow. The gift of listening is one I use in my relationships with others, and it helps me in my work as a yoga teacher. My students get the benefit of Nana’s ear, when life’s discoveries and losses come up for them. I believe that we all want to be heard, and that when we can be truly heard with care and love, there is a vast potential for healing. Nana was a great teacher in my life.

Thank you, Nana! Your memory means so much to me. May your wisdom shine through in my actions. And Nana, if you can, will you see that Barack Obama makes it safely to the White House? I’m sure you would have voted for him. And whenever Madelyn Dunham finds her way (no rush) will you welcome her? You will probably be great friends.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Support for Change

Many yoga practitioners say that when they come to a class they work harder than when they practice at home. Somehow it can be harder to maintain motivation to do a full practice at home. Maybe we come home tired, or there are too many distractions.

The support of having a teacher and fellow students working really gets me going. Even listening to energizing music can help. Having support makes making change more natural. Support helps create space for change.

When a person starts on the path of yoga, whether they know it or not they are on a path of change. This could be because change is the truth of experience. It also could be because when a person is practicing yoga it’s harder to hide from the truth. The body feels different. I became aware of myself in a different way when I committed to my yoga practice.

I learned to become myself in a different way when I got into yoga. Before yoga my attention was on pleasing others. Then, my attention shifted to getting to know myself. And now I want to learn how I can connect more deeply with others, keeping my sense of myself intact.

This is a place where I must give myself support. Nobody else can really know what is best for me, except me. Only I know. Yet, there have been times in my life when I have wanted to give that away. It was much easier to focus on someone else. But, when I have done that it left a vacancy inside myself. And I now feel that it does myself a disservice to the extent that it’s almost criminal.

I came here with a particular take on life, and my experiences have further guided me into a sense of myself that I have to honor. If I don’t it’s a waste of myself. It’s my birthright to be me, even though at times it has been hard for me to accept the responsibility.

I think the level of self-rejection I used to have is unique, yet a part of me doubts this thought. In the past, the most important thing was pleasing other people (as I mentioned earlier). Seeing the smiling look of approval on the face of another was like hitting the emotional jackpot. Or, hearing the words, “good, Brooks” sent my spirit soaring. I’m more suspicious of these patterned reactions, now.

The impersonal format of a group yoga class gave me the support I needed to have quality time with myself. I started to wake up. During the period of time I’m thinking about, I was practicing Ashtanga yoga. Somehow the support of those teachers, and the repetition of the classes, as well as the quietness of the Mysore-style practice provided a fertile ground for transformation within myself.

I don’t know how else I might have found myself in the chaos of this world.

A friend made an observation when I remembered a detail of what I heard him say last week. He had forgotten that he had mentioned it to me, so when I said it he was a little freaked out, like I was psychic or something. I shared that I had only remembered what he said, and that I tend to remember what people say. He responded by saying that it must mean less space for me with other people’s thoughts bouncing around in my head.

And eureka! Maybe that’s why many people don’t really listen or remember what others say, because they feel that they’ll loose that space for themselves.

I think (not being a brain scientist) that we have infinite capacity to hear others. The feeling of tight brain space is an illusion that can be remedied by a regular practice of letting go, like yoga. Listening is a wonderful and priceless gift we can give another being.

To be able to support another by listening can help that person locate their self. Listening in this way provides space in the chaos of life, space to flourish, room to change.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wisdom to Try

The first time I was in a yoga class where Urdhva Dhanurasana (see picture) was taught, I just laid there—no way could I do that. The teacher came over with an inquisitive look, and asked me what I was doing. I said that I couldn’t do the pose, and he asked me if I wanted to try. He helped me and I just got up a little at first, but over time I learned to get up into the pose on my own. In yoga I began to try, and this lesson has spilled out into all corners of my life. I am so grateful for this.

I am reading a great book that talks about the importance of trying: My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph. D. In it Taylor, a brain scientist, describes her experience of having a stroke and her incredible recovery. Through the experience of temporarily loosing certain abilities in her brain she gained valuable insights about consciousness, which she shares in the book. She has a provocative awareness about her recovery:

“Recovery was a decision I had to make a million times a day. Was I willing to put forth the effort to try?”

I find this idea provocative because my tendency has been to let things go too much, as if the things in my life have a natural order that I should obey. If Ms. Taylor had had this attitude, she surly would not have recovered completely. Her recovery was a decision, not something she sat by and watched happen. I wonder as a healthy person: what does this say about my attitude toward my own potential? Can I decide to make the changes I want “a million times a day”? Because it’s not enough to only have a vision in my mind. I want to put it to work.

Somehow I learned from my past that it’s better to have done something, than it is to try. I also learned that it is embarrassing to try. In the book, Taylor mentions that in her early recovery it was a blessing that the judging part of her mind was gone. It allowed her to explore herself with curiosity instead of disappointment.

To try is to be innocent. To try is to be open to learning something new. Stereotypically, these are not considered to be “adult” traits. Even the wise sage of Star Wars (as well as a barometer of mainstream thought), Yoda said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” If taken as absolute wisdom, this kind of thinking is stifling. If someone only allows themselves to do, this person has to be pretty sure already that they can do it, whereas someone who is free to try has more options and can be more creative with life.

As I’ve heard Gabriel Halpern say many times, “Death says: play it safe. Life says: take a risk.”

I don’t think that “trying” can be better than “doing” or vice versa. Both are correct responses to different situations. It’s important to know where you are in a given cycle. For example when I was a teenager, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth mesmerized me. Seeing her muscular arm playing the bass was an inspiring image of strength. It took me about ten years to take my first guitar lesson. I always considered playing to be out of reach. I was disconnected from the thought that I could try, and wasn’t ready to risk the embarrassment of that learning process. I really felt like everything was over and already done when I was in my teens and twenties. I consider myself lucky and blessed that I’ve finally found the wisdom to try new things without the permission of others—even though I consider myself to be a late bloomer in this regard.

A general rule I was taught about yoga teaching was to avoid the word “try.” The idea being that it gives people permission to not do it, because they can just try instead of really doing whatever is being taught. But I see that there times where trying is helpful and healing. If a thing seems impossible, going straight to doing it might not work; it might be better to try it first.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fall-ing for Renewal

The seasons can be seen as metaphor that can be used to work with consciousness.

Here, in Chicago the leaves are blushing with color that signals the fall season. At this time the leaves also drop from their branches. It is the end of a cycle of growth.

In life there are times when good things end: a job, a relationship, youth… We suffer when we psychologically hold onto things that are over. For example, some years ago I was in a job that fit my idea of what I should be doing, but in reality it was a miserable experience. I stayed in it thinking of the so-called “benefits,” and I stayed for my pride. I had thought it was a good decision to take the job and didn’t want to see myself as wrong.

Can you imagine the trees shivering as they pinch onto leaves, trying to hold onto the previous growing season? Yet I was doing something just as ridiculous!

I don’t think the trees desperately hold onto the leaves of their youth. Trees seem wise. They are absolutely in tune with their cycle of change. Even though we had an exceptionally mild and sunny September, the trees weren’t fooled. Fall still happened right on time.

The leaves will continue to fall and decompose, nourishing the earth, and protecting places where fragile plants can grow next spring.

Similarly, we can let old modes of consciousness go and this letting go can nourish our mental realm providing a foundation for future growth and creativity.

When I finally did let go of the miserable job, it initiated a new season in my life when I re-discovered yoga. The practice and my passion rooted strongly in the rich earth of my past experiences, bringing something new and wonderful into my life—spring!