One Pose at a Time

For lent this year, I decided to add something that would deepen my relationship to God (which is the point of lent, if you didn’t know) rather than give things up.

In the stress and exhaustion of the long to commute to my former middle school job, in the constant battle to overcome feelings of moving backwards, I lost my yoga practice over six months.

Therefore, I decided the what I needed to give up/add in was inertia/yoga.   I kept it simple and totally doable:  I would do something yoga each day, even if it was one pose or breathing with intention for ten minutes.

What I found is that it is that one pose that is most difficult, that has kept me from practicing.  Or rather, if I need to do an hour long practice, I can’t even start that first pose.  However, if I enter it as just one pose for the day, I find that my body awakes and craves not another glass of wine or coffee to trick it into being alive, but another pose.  That pose leads to another pose.  Which may be really difficult and I hear my vertebrae pop and release and then, I feel how locked my hip is, leading to another pose to find equal relief.

Then it is an hour later.  One pose at a time.  One word after another.  One moment.  Maybe I will make it through this …


“This place where you are right now…”

“This place where you are right now/ God circled on a map for you” — Hafiz

On “Survivors,” a British TV show about the 1% of the population left alive after a sudden virus, fear and terror are the greatest threats to survival. In one episode, a father isolates himself and his two children from all of life out of fear of coming in contact with the deadly virus and in terror of the ill will of others to take their resources. He does not let his children out of the house and uses violence to ward off anyone who approaches. He does not wait to find out if they harbingers of good or evil. His daughter states that being alive is more than just breathing. His terror smothers.

In an interview on WTF, Judd Apatow paints the surrendering to joy as the throwing back of the head in laughter, as we do so, opening our necks to vulnerability.  He continues with the idea that we stop ourselves from succumbing to the full experience of joy as we envision someone waiting to “slit our throat” when so exposed. We are conditioned, through experience, through parents, through history, through poetry and literature, to anticipate the end of joy. Thus, we live in the terror of joy rather than in joy.

In reality, no one is waiting to slit our throats. In reality, we often slits our own throat before finding out no throats need to be slit in the aftermath of joy.

This is painful and exhausting.

In his blog, Stephen Archer writes, “I didn’t want to look for­ward to some­thing with an expectation. Too easy to get burned.” He avoids hope; he doubts it.  Is it a delusion? Is it “simply wishing for a future that is not like this present”?  Maybe sometimes there is some throat slitting, but isn’t hope what allows that to heal, to have the faith to throw back our heads in laughter when joy, inevitably, reappears?  Or that allows us to believe we will be able to do so again one day?

I want to not need hope. I want to just be in what is moment.

In our fear of the unfamiliar, the unknown, the inexplicable, we risk killing the joy for which we long. Luke 2:9-10 states, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’”  The sermon that followed concluded with the need of the shepherds for active, everyday hope in their otherwise dreary lives.

In yoga this week, my teacher talked of sradha, the yogic teaching that we continue to do what we do with the confidence that it matters based on our past experiences. She called this the yogic version of  faith, different than the blind faith of other philosophies or religions.

I find the phrase blind faith redundant. Is there really any other kind?

I cannot reconile the oxymoron of faith being built on evidence.  It is when I seek evidence that faith falters, that it turns into terror of joy and fear of hope.

Faith is what allows me to go forth even without sradha/experience, to believe that if I listen beyond my fear/terror and act in love that joy will find me wherever I am because I am where I was meant to be.

I want angels to point me in the right direction.   I want a sign, which is perhaps a sign that I need more faith.

Art of Nothing

Thursday my new iPad arrived.  Today, I returned it.

In the two days with my iPad  I tried to get Google docs to work for when I would want to edit my poems or write new ones on my new portable electronic device, I spent time downloading apps so I could read the news in flashy formats, listen to Pandora, play words with friends and tweet about how much I was not doing, I even ambitiously figured out how to download books from the public library.

I decided to stay home this summer to relax, finish my manuscript, and plan a cross-country move.  The iPad, I realized, was useless for progressing any of these goals.

Friday night, I cried through yoga class (for reasons which are inexplicable or which I will not explain publicly) and then through the movie, Crime After Crime.   Debbie, the subject of this impassioned and inspirational movie, lived 26 years in prison, wrongfully incarcerated.  Two attorneys spent six years of their personal time and money to get her out.   Debbie was a devout Christian and Joshua, one of her attorneys, is an orthodox Jew. I was grateful to be in a movie theater, the darkness and the ticket I purchased that contracted me to sit and listen for two hours to a story that reminded me to believe in the power of faith and in the compassion of humans.    I cried for Debbie and for myself.

Where had my faith gone, when I had no reason to lose faith and Debbie, who had no reason to hope, had faith in abundance?  Through faith, the attorneys achieved what seemed impossible and gave the gift of healing and liberation.  My lack of faith leaves me exhausted and keeps me from the joys I am given each day.

I went home to work on some poems on my iPad.  It would have been more effective to do nothing.   Pen and paper would have been more efficient in capturing what my soul was trying to learn.   I set up apps to help me plan my trip to San Francisco.  I longed for maps I could fold, that would not, with the wrong swipe of my finger down a road, turn into an advertisement.

Add up all those wasted swipes I could have done my yoga practice, read another chapter of a book, or practiced with a choir like Debbie. I missed being in a choir.  I felt guilty for thinking this. Debbie could only sing in prison; I could sing wherever I want, but can’t seem to find the time.  I felt I was squandering my time, yet I can never see the end of the list of things to do.

Saturday I felt depleted.  I went to another movie.  I did not enjoy the movie, but felt the relief of the sanctuary of the movie theater.   There is nowhere to go.  All else will wait.

I have trouble waiting.  This staying put is challenging.  It is the hardest part of writing.  It is the hardest part, for me, of living, particularly when I know what I want.   I want to be there, forget that being here is as important.   The iPad, the traffic of LA, the tedium of online applications, the fear that my poems are not ‘good enough’ do not help.   I want the next thing, but there is no form to complete, no fee to pay to make it happen sooner.

And it shouldn’t.   This is where I want Debbie’s faith.  I want to believe that each moment is where I need to be, is a gift, that will lead me to the next one.

So Sunday morning I  went to church, another place we are allowed to sit for an hour and do nothing except listen and sing and greet the people sitting around us.   It has been about a year since I went to church on a non-holiday.   The sermon was about the sacredness of everyday language, how we speak and transform ourselves and others with words.   Like, thank you and I love you and you are beautiful and it will get better.   And poems.  I was sitting, doing nothing, so I could hear that God was saying, “Lisa, just go write.  Don’t do anything.  Write and love.”

The anthem, Simple Gifts from God,  was how I felt about the movie theater, the church, this act of truly doing nothing.  It is in these places that the fix for the line that is not working comes, or the right word to finish that unsettled poem, or the peace to ease my unsettled heart.

It really is simple.  Get paper and pen and make words.   It is simple to buy a map and highlight the route you need to follow.  It is simple to fill out an application and then find gratitude in whatever comes your way.  It is simple because I am free to do what I want.

Like to love someone and to know I matter and make others  feel they matter.  Because we are there, together doing nothing, saying things in everyday language that becomes sacred because it is said with love.

On my way home, I stopped for groceries and bought a used paperback book for my trip.   I went home and un-Lisa’d the iPad (thankfully a less time-consuming task).  I printed my manuscript for me to edit and revise on my trip.  I downloaded an audio book to my old iPod and I finished a job application.

I made time for yoga.   I was a few minutes late.  As I lay down on my mat a put my legs up against the wall, inverted my body and the racing of my mind, my yoga teacher asked “How does it feel to surrender to simply being here?”  Simple.  It is simple to show up and reverse the idea of always doing.  It is simple to not fix what isn’t broken.  It is simple to accept that things take time and that if I do nothing, life will unfold.

I stopped by the post office to send the iPad back.  Thankfully they have a self-service machine to simplify this process and to allow me to do this on a Sunday.

I packed my journal and planned to buy a map when I get to my destination.  I look forward to the long drive of doing nothing except growing my faith that I will arrive where I need to be safely and ready to love.

The Joyful Place of Grief

Today my yoga teacher talked about being in mother mode as she delivered bolsters and blocks and blankets to students already on their mats.  “My mom is always offering to serve me.  ‘Let me do your laundry.  I need to wash a load anyway.'”   As I remembered doing laundry for my  mother, too ill to do mine for me, I felt grief come out from behind its curtain: the sadness that is beyond sadness.    I sensed her, could smell her house and feel the drag on the accordion door in front of the washer.  It felt like I stopped in to visit after too long of an absence.   It felt good to hold that sadness, to remember.   I then celebrated with deep breaths she could never take and with the movement of the body she manifested for me.

Enrolling in the School of Fish

I’ve been in a state of writing-paralysis, frozen by the headlights of the quickly approaching manuscript deadline, graduation, and returning to full-time high school teaching.   No matter that I wake up every morning thankful for the day of writing ahead, for the challenging and astute comments of my mentor, and for the luxury of being able to pursue a dream, I end up stuck in finding solutions to fix poems I once thought were done.   They are not done, these poems that carry the weight of the need/desire/expectation to be published, to win fellowships, to be given scholarships, to become a book so that I can do more of what I love so much I can’t do it:  write.   Much like my own body that has taken on weight in this process, there is too much attached to my poems for them to have the freedom of movement.  So each morning I turn on the computer and vow today will be the day I fix it all.

I don’t and so I go to yoga.   Perhaps to avoid writing,  I started trading work hours for unlimited yoga classes, so after class, working at the front desk, I picked up a magazine during some down time.  The article I read focused on how healers heal themselves.  Odd, since I am not really a healer, but I figured I would pick up a few tips from the pros.   The writer focused on the distinction between fixing and healing — between seeing something as broken or inferior versus being in need of transformation.

My poems don’t need fixing, they need healing and transformation.   Still, my brain tightens, resists, doubs her ability to heal these poems (and maybe me).

Moreover, also working on synthesizing disease and healing into my poems, I wonder how this process of moving from being broken, in need to fixing, being in need of healing and transformation might be embodied in a poem.  What would that look like?  Is it possible to do this in a poem that is complete?   Or is this concept only useful in the act of revision.

In the yoga class I took that day, my teacher, who had just come back from a trip snorkeling, asked us to visual a fish in changing currents, to see how the fish does not resist the changes, but pauses, adjusts, and then uses the current to move to where the fish needs or wants to be.

In writing I am both the fish and the ocean as are my poems.   Like a fish, we must be still and let this current of the other carry us to the place where snorkelers will listen to their breath as they admire our ability to stay in the flow.