Tag Archives: Practice

Thoughts on Practice

My meditation shrine

My meditation shrine

I realized the other day that when cultivating a new practice, an essential thing to remember is to not make it a big deal. What I mean is sometimes your rules and restrictions about what you think your practice is supposed to be are based on what you know about long time, serious practitioners, and a whole set of internalized “shoulds.” In this way, rather than easing into things, you make it a big deal and set the bar too high.

For example, with meditation, you might feel like you have to have the “right” meditation tools (cushions, shrine, timers, etc.) and that at the start you should be meditating for long sessions. These intentions in the beginning end up becoming obstacles rather than support. You wait until you can afford the “right” tools, spend hours researching and talking about the practice and the tools but not actually doing anything, or you sit for one session of half an hour one day and immediately the next day are too busy and can’t manage sitting for that long so you skip it altogether.

I could write a whole book about cultivating a practice. In fact, I probably will. What I’m thinking about today in particular is how we get in our own way when we want to start, turn it into a big deal that ends up tanking the whole thing, AND how after we establish our practice, there is a natural shift to taking it seriously, which can look a whole lot like “making it a big deal.” What I mean is while it’s good in the beginning to not worry about the specifics or put too much pressure on getting it “right,” once you are committed, it’s good to honor what you are doing in a different way.

Once a practice is in place and you’ve found your own reasons to continue, taking it seriously makes a difference. For example, when you first begin a yoga asana practice, you can do so without a mat or props or any sort of in-person interaction with a class or a teacher. There are plenty of really good free videos online, and a belt from a bathrobe makes a perfectly good yoga strap. And yet, if you’ve been practicing regularly and intend to continue, it makes sense to invest in some props and maybe even find a community in the form of a studio or specific teacher, to research the different kinds of yoga asana and regularly practice the one that resonates most with you.

So to start, don’t make it a big deal. Then when it becomes a big deal, honor it as such. And know that no matter what, it is your practice and what “honoring” it looks like is specific to you, your experience and intentions and goals — and no one else can tell you what that is. Only you know, and you can trust yourself.

Accessible vs. Easy

I watched a Great Big Story video last night, Posing for Inner Peace: The Yogi Practicing Body Acceptance, in which Dana Falsetti talks about her yoga practice. There was one thing she said about teaching that stayed with me because it bothered me. It’s not what she said exactly or what I think she meant because I’ve followed her for a long time and know her backstory and I don’t think she meant to say anything negative — yet it might be easily interpreted that way.

In the video, she said, “I travel all over the world teaching body positive workshops. So, I don’t necessarily teach in a way that is about modifying or making the practice easier for anybody based on age or size or anything like that. It’s more about teaching in a way that makes everyone feel really included and really comfortable.” I think she meant to say that her focus is on inclusion and comfort, making her students feel a certain way rather than focusing on the mechanics of the practice. I also infer that she wants to be sure that one doesn’t see the fat (or illness, injury, or age) on her body or those of her students and make assumptions about their ability to practice, about how strong or flexible or capable they might be. Maybe she also wants her students to retain authority over their own practice, their own experience, and believes that taking the focus off modifications, variations, and props supports that.

And yet, as a teacher who DOES focus on the mechanics of the practice, on helping students find the appropriate modifications, the best variations, and the most helpful props, what she said bothers me. It seems to imply (even though I’m pretty sure that’s not what she meant) that “easy” is bad, that modifications don’t need to be taught, that student’s don’t need the teacher’s help in finding what is comfortable, or that making modifications or choosing variations or using props mean your practice isn’t challenging, that by doing any of these things you are taking the easy way out, (see Allison Ray Jeraci’s Instagram account to see one example of how “easy” poses are with modifications and props).

“So, I don’t necessarily teach in a way that is about modifying or making the practice easier for anybody based on age or size or anything like that.” It isn’t about making someone’s practice “easier,” but rather making yoga asana practice accessible. And maybe the statement only bothers me because I’m an accessibility geek when it comes to yoga asana practice, about people moving their bodies in general. Movement matters, for everyone, and as someone who facilitates movement experiences, I feel like it’s my responsibility and my JOY to figure out ways my students can move in ways that feel good, that allow them to meet their goals. When I teach, I want to help them find those ways, to provide them with whatever support, options, and tools I can.

Modifications, variations, and props don’t make yoga asana practice “easier,” they make it more accessible. They facilitate a student’s experience, allow them to meet their body, heart and mind (physical and energetic) exactly where it is on any given day. It cultivates a deep awareness of what they need and what they have to give. It allows them to meet themselves and others from a place of stability and compassion. It allows them to let go of external and internalized expectations about what yoga asana practice or the shape of their body is “supposed to” look like.

Practice can allow a state of being that Tara Brach calls radical compassion. One of the ways she talks about practicing this is R.A.I.N., which stands for:

  • Recognize what’s happening
  • Allow life to be just as it is
  • Investigate with a gentle, curious attention
  • Nurture with loving presence

And anyone who’s ever attempted that, on the mat or off, knows that it’s anything but easy.

 

On the Origins of Things

Today would have been my friend Kelly’s birthday. Would have been, because nine years ago, at only 37 years old, she died. I’ve written quite a bit about her here, including but not limited to:

  • Kelly Jo, in which I shared a short essay I’d written for a CSU publication in her memory, remembering her as a person who was strong, smart, creative, cheerful and compassionate. In the blog post, I said “If you don’t already have a Kelly in your life, it is my greatest wish for you that you will.”
  • Dance Party, in which I showed my “woo-woo” side. “I had told Kelly, when the cancer came back and she started chemo and she asked us to visualize events we’d share in the future, that one thing we’d do, when she felt better, would be to have a dance party. It started as an aspiration, but then I thought, ‘why not?’ and started to plan the music.”
  • The world is never the same after she is there, in which I shared, “I can’t think about how much I’ve changed in the last few years, how much happier and more focused I am, the drive I feel to do good, to save lives besides just my own without thinking about Kelly, without feeling a deep determination that I need to do what Kelly is no longer able to, to reflect all the love and kindness and good she manifested.”
  • Don’t give up, in which I said, “And yet, that’s one good thing that came from losing Kelly, (and Obi, and then Dexter) — I set the intention to heal myself, to be myself, and in that way to start to help make the world better. I vowed to keep my heart open, no matter how bad things got, no matter how hard it might be.”
  • Day of Rest: Remembering Kelly, which I ended by saying, “I am still here in large part because of Kelly. That and a huge dose of survivor’s guilt. I live with the somewhat twisted notion that if a person as amazing as her doesn’t get to be here, I need to earn the right to be here. I have to try harder, be better, not waste my time, stop messing around, ‘suck it up and get tough’ like my high school football couch and social studies teacher used to say. And yet, today as I remember her, on this day of rest, I know that she wouldn’t want me to feel like that. She would tell me ‘it’s okay, cheer up, you’re perfect.’”
  • Three Truths and One Wish, where I wished, “That after loss, we can find something to hold on to, something that keeps us from giving up. At the very moment I wrote the line above about our love going wild, a tiny fat hummingbird hovered outside my window just to the right of my computer screen. That feels like love to me, like both magic and medicine, and for now that’s enough.”

Every time this anniversary comes around, I sink into contemplation, about the meaning of life and more particularly the meaning of my life, and this year that dive is so much deeper. The best word to describe my current state is “confused.” Almost five months have passed since I quit my CSU job after 19 years. At first, I blamed the exhaustion, the stuck I felt on burnout, which isn’t entirely wrong. And yet, as time has passed and the summer turns to fall, I’ve started to suspect that it isn’t just burnout.

I’m confused. I was so sure that I’d take the summer off, like I have for the past nine years, and when fall came, I’d start my new work as a contemplative practice guide. My intention — beyond easing suffering, in myself and in the world — was to specialize in yoga asana, meditation, and writing as practice, and to spend more of my time writing. I wanted to hold space for people cultivating a foundation of a stable mind and embodied compassion. I wanted to serve my community, working towards social justice and liberation for all people.

At first the awfulness that was happening in the world seemed to support my intention, to make it clear that what I was hoping to do was necessary, needed, and therefore “right.” But the more I educate myself about things like racism and climate change and diet culture and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia and xenophobia and white feminism and cultural appropriation and spiritual bypassing and gaslighting and white priveledge and white fragility and capitalism and police brutality and private prisons and ICE and, and, and… I start to feel more like part of the problem then a force of change.

Last week, I did some wild writing with my friends Chloe’ and Mikalina. This is a practice we learned from our teacher Laurie Wagner. We were using On the Origins of Things by Troy Jollimore as our prompt. This is what I wrote:

They say “everything happens for a reason” and Pema Chödrön says that the lessons you need to learn will keep coming back until you finally learn and the first noble truth of Buddhism is life is suffering which simply means life is uncomfortable and you’ll never get exactly what you want. I agree with some of those things some days, but some of the time I refuse to accept it or it doesn’t make any sense. Things happen for no reason, life is chaos, and yes, you never get what you want. I keep trying to go back, travel to some origin that can explain what I’m supposed to be doing, what to feel and think. I want to do the best thing, but the list of possibilities is endless. I think if I can catalog or organize or interpret what has happened to me, fully study and process my experience, I’ll gain some clarity, know what to do. But it’s just like how I think if I just go to bed earlier or take a nap or skip the gym or eat more vegetables, I won’t be so tired all the time, but it’s not a physical tired, it’s tired of trying to make sense of it or hold space for all of it and now that I have all the time in the world what do I do with it when the possibilities are so endless and the list of things I care about is so long I will never stop writing it. Every morning has been cloudy, wet, cold, gray. I picked more tomatoes last night to eat with dinner knowing the cold would soon dip low enough that there’d be no more tomatoes and why is it like that, the fullness of summer lasting so long and late so that we completely skip right past the middle-ness of fall to the edge of winter. Start to finish up, but what exactly am I finishing? What did I even mean to say? That there’s all this space, that things have shifted and I’m not quite sure where I am.

So yes, kind and gentle reader, I’m feeling confused, and maybe a bit discouraged. I’m trying to make sense of things that just don’t make sense. I’m trying to find solid ground even as I know that doesn’t exist. And yet, please know: I’m not giving up. Things are taking longer than I imagined they would. I remind myself this is always the case, that it’s okay to go slow, so slow it might look to someone watching like I’m not moving at all.

Taking Refuge

my meditation shrine

my meditation shrine

The first time I attempted meditation was almost 20 years ago. I was reading Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart and books on writing by Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg. I was fascinated by the philosophy, the perspective, the practice, and willing to try anything that might help me cope with the difficulty of my life, my emotions and my mind. Even though I found it beneficial, sat regularly for a short time with a Zen meditation group and on my own, the practice didn’t stick. I didn’t even finish reading Kornfield’s book.

I continued to struggle for eleven more years before finding my way back to a cushion. A friend recommended Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart and mentioned that the local Shambhala Meditation Center had a program coming up I might be interested in, “The Art of Being Human.” I read the book and went to the training, and started to practice in earnest. For two years, one weekend a month I was either attending a retreat or staffing one. I read and studied and practiced. This was the same time I started to practice yoga regularly. Things were falling into place.

And then everything fell apart. I had already been dealing with a difficult work situation, was stressed and in crisis, when my Obi was diagnosed with a treatable but ultimately incurable cancer. At the same time, my friend Kelly was diagnosed with cancer. That summer I went to Shambhala Mountain Center to participate in a longer retreat, Warrior Assembly, the culmination of the two years of training I’d been doing. Not long after I returned home, Obi died. Six months later, Kelly died. Even though I didn’t leave CSU entirely, I effectively quit the job that was so problematic.

Meditation Hall at Warrior Assembly, Shambhala Mountain Center, Summer of 2009

Meditation Hall at Warrior Assembly, Shambhala Mountain Center, Summer of 2009

I was completely heartbroken, utterly lost, so confused. After two years of regular practice, I couldn’t do it anymore. Every time I sat on my cushion to meditate, I fell part, felt so raw, came unhinged and couldn’t stop crying. I was angry — if this practice couldn’t help me feel better when the worst happened, what good was it? I smile to remember it now, that way of thinking about what practice was supposed to do for me. What I understand now that I didn’t then is that my raw and tender broken heart, being able to feel that, experience it, sit and stay with it is exactly the point, not making it “go away” or fixing it like I thought.

Practice starts precisely where we find ourselves, which for many of us is a place of heartbreak, suffering, alienation and doubt. But it is precisely there, within those circumstances, that we start. ~Ryushin Sensei

For at least a year, I tried to find my way back to my cushion. I would practice in fits and starts, but it never seemed to stick. I continued to practice yoga and slowly started to write more regularly. I started taking ecourses and began this blog. I started building a routine, finding a rhythm. And then I found Susan Piver and her Open Heart Project, (OHP). I signed up for her newsletter and started meditating with her. Her wisdom, kindness, and friendship, along with the OHP community, helped me find my way back.

meditating with Susan

The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you — when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever — you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are. ~Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about taking refuge vows. I’ve been telling people for so long “I study and practice Buddhism, but I’m not actually a Buddhist, haven’t taken vows or anything,” that I wondered if I ever would. But I’ve been feeling a longing, a growing awareness — this is my path, I’m committed to it. Like I told a teacher once, “if this doesn’t work, nothing does.” For whatever reason, this is just what makes sense to me. It helps me to live my life, to be in the world, to cultivate kindness and wisdom, sanity. And yet, I have been waiting, for either an opportunity that was close to home or one Susan Piver could attend, because it felt important to me to have her there somehow, since she’s the primary reason I’d be there.

Then I got certified to teach yoga. We studied yogic philosophy as part of our training, meditated, did mantra and kirtan practice, learned various breath practices and the sanskrit names for the yoga poses, read the yoga sutras — and I loved it all, saw so many similarities between it and my tradition, but also became very aware that it wasn’t my path. Yoga is one of my practices, and part of my path as such, but I’m not so much a yogini as I am a Buddhist who does yoga.

Becoming a yoga teacher made it clear it was time to make a true commitment to my path. I searched to see where I might go to take my vows, and saw that the Boulder Shambhala Center was offering the ceremony two days before my birthday. Susan couldn’t be there, but she did write my letter of recommendation. The teacher who would be performing the ceremony had taught at my Warrior Assembly, and when I arrived the night we went to make our official request to make the vow, a friend was leading our meditation session. It was time.

boulderrigden

Boulder Shambhala Meditation Center Main Shrine Room

I asked Susan her advice about taking vows in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, and she said, “Relax. Watch your mind. Enjoy. Relax. Repeat … And remember, you have nothing to prove. This ceremony is to mark something that has already happened.” I tried to remember this as I waited for my interview with Acharya Ferguson (“Acharya” in this tradition basically means “senior teacher”), and even though he’s the kindest person and I’d met him before, I was still nervous. The purpose of the interview is to make a formal request to take the vow and for the teacher to come up with the dharma name you’d be given the day of the ceremony. We were told that he might ask us questions, but might not. The person who went in just before me was talking and laughing with him, and I wasn’t sure what to wish for — if he didn’t ask me any questions, was that good or bad? Part of me wanted him to see me and for my presence to be so vibrant, my true self so clearly embodied and present that he would know just by seeing me. I think I was also afraid if I opened my mouth, I might say something weird because I was anxious and end up with an odd name that didn’t fit, didn’t make sense to me.

In Tibet, children are given a nickname when they are born. This is what everyone calls them until they are old enough to take their refuge vows and receive their adult, Buddhist name. In that culture, everyone given a name uses it. In the West, many dharma students don’t actually change their name, but rather use it as a contemplation. We were told that the name isn’t meant as a compliment or a challenge, but rather something to consider as we practice, intended to offer insight, and that it was entirely up to us whether we wanted to officially change our name, use it in that way. I felt sure my name would be a message, that it would provide me a new understanding of my path. And during my meeting with Acharya Ferguson that night, he did ask me a few questions, and I could see the exact moment he knew the name he’d offer me.

heartgiftOn the day of the ceremony, I focused on Susan’s advice. I relaxed and enjoyed myself. Acharya Ferguson gave a talk in the morning about what it meant to take refuge, and then we did sitting and walking meditation until lunch, contemplating what we were about to do. After a break to eat, we came back and had a rehearsal and then the ceremony itself.

In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom. ~Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

The ceremony itself was a funny combination of something like a baptism and a wedding, along with something else entirely. After you take the vow, reciting it three times after performing prostrations, the teacher (referred to in this case as a preceptor) snaps his fingers, and it’s at that moment the vow is made. My favorite moment was that finger snap. It was so simple and yet so definite. My next favorite moment was receiving my dharma name.

As I stood in line, listening to all the other names, I wondered if mine would be so good. Every person’s name seemed so rich, so full of beauty and possibility and wisdom. Every name that was read, I thought “oh, I wish that was mine!” I worried I’d get something that would be awkward or confusing. I’d talked to other people about their names, and listening to them describe their lingering confusion, I anticipated my own.

dharmanameI didn’t need to worry. There’s a rightness to the name I was given. I will continue to contemplate it, but my first thought was an appreciation of the way it married the concept of vastness, openness, emptiness with embodiment, movement, physical expression. I used to long to be a visionary, an oracle, a seer, a prophet of some sort, but I’m understanding more and more than my purpose is to be a container, an embodiment of wisdom and compassion.

You go through this ceremony which is like part baptism and part wedding and you expect to be born again somehow, cleansed or something, a new beginning, but really I’m just back in the heat of my own stew, laughing at how silly I was to think anything was going to be magically changed by it. I have to do the work, show up and practice, it’s up to me and that’s never going to change. This is my path, for sure and for real.

The biggest illusion about a path of refuge is that we are on our way somewhere else, on our way to becoming a different kind of person. But ultimately, our refuge is not outside ourselves, not somewhere in the future – it is always and already here. ~Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

The Shit is a Metaphor

goldenraintreecolor02I find myself constantly amazed by the color this time of year, how everything is lit up, the way some of the leaves are so bright on some plants that they look like they must be plugged in, electrified. I’m also gripped by a tender sadness as our garden gets too cold and stops producing, as things begin to die off, as the trees drop their leaves and stand naked, gray and bare.

It’s necessary, this cycling between blooming and resting, this transition from awake to asleep, from life to death. It’s the way things are, the way this works. We can resist it or try to deny it, but that only leads to more suffering.

I was watching myself this morning on our walk, noticing how I deal with obstacles. I work so hard in my practice to allow things to arise as they are, to be present with reality but without judgment or agenda, to show up with an open heart, to maintain my sense of curiosity and humor, to be patient and kind. I work at it, but so often I fail. I get triggered, hooked, irritated, upset. I act out.

that's not dirt, that's shit

that’s not dirt, that’s shit

This morning, there was horse poop about every 20 feet on at least three of the miles of trail we walked. With a puppy who doesn’t have a very good “leave it” yet when it comes to something so appealing, that means I spent an awful lot of my time trying to keep him out of it and it out of him, either by having to pull him away from it or reach into his mouth after it.

So I spent a lot of our walk this morning covered in shit. It was on my hands, the leash, and my pants. I wanted to just accept it for what it was, no judgement, but I confess after a bit, I was frustrated and looking for someone to blame. I was mad at everyone: the horses, their owners, my dog, myself. All we were trying to do was have a nice walk, to enjoy the cool air and beautiful colors and quiet and time together, and instead our path was littered with shit.

There was so much of it that at a certain point it was comical. When we came up the hill and saw the bridge we needed to cross was covered in it, all I could do was laugh. In that moment, I felt myself soften, shifting from wanting to bag up all the shit and dump it in the living room of the first horse owner I could find to feeling a genuine sense of kindness towards all of us, how hard we try and how messy and challenging the whole thing is. We cling so tightly to our sense of security and comfort that we can completely forget to look up, to see how the sky is lit up, that the leaves are glowing, to know that it is fleeting, all of it, and we must pay attention because soon it will be gone.

Life Rehab Resource: Practice, Part Three

liferehabresourcesAfter writing the first two posts about practice, I started thinking about what practice actually means to me. What is it? Here’s what I came up with, in no particular order.

  • Regular, ongoing, routine. Working with the same thing repeatedly over time, coming back to it again and again. Compulsory, something you show up for no matter what. I’ve heard it described as digging a well — you don’t dig for a bit in one area and then move to another spot of ground and start to dig again, but rather you keep digging in the same spot until you hit water.
  • Without agenda. Cultivating an attitude of nonjudgement and nonattachement, you drop criticism and striving. You stop comparison with other or self — past, present, or future. Let go of both fear and hope. Show up with an attitude of open curiosity, without evaluation, dropping any story you have about what’s occurring.
  • “Only don’t know.” Have a beginner’s mind, again that sense of open curiosity, like a wobbly, awkward toddler learning to walk. As Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
  • Skillful means. The intention to learn, to transform, to develop mastery and wisdom.
  • Mindfulness of the present moment. Connection to and curiosity of your immediate experience. Your mind and body in the same place, at the same time.
  • Done from love, in pursuit of joy. In Austin Kleon’s new book, Show Your Work, he defines being an amateur, a state we cultivate in practice, this way, “the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love…regardless of the potential for fame, money or career.”
  • “Not too loose, not too tight.” Learning to continually balance your effort with ease. “Wobble turns to sway and sway turns to balance. Never get too comfortable, relax where you are.” Pema Chödrön describes it this way,

    My middle way and your middle way are not the same middle way. For instance, my style is to be casual and soft-edged and laid-back. For me to do what usually would be called a strict practice is still pretty relaxed, because I do it in a relaxed way. So strict practice is good for me. But perhaps you are much more militant and precise. Maybe you tend toward being tight, so you might need to find out what it means to practice in a relaxed, loose way. Everyone practices in order to find out for him- or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.

  • Making friends with yourself. Spending time with, being gentle and present, observing without judgement, showing up no matter what. My friend and meditation instructor Susan Piver describes it, in the context of meditation, this way,

    I encourage you to relax self-judgment, especially when it comes to your meditation practice. Our practice, rather than trying to get meditation “right,” is about relaxing with ourselves just as we are. Instead of critiquing our every move, we extend the hand of friendship. This, it turns out, is the way to find our innate, pre-existing wisdom which is always there.

  • Obstacles are path, are practice. They aren’t simply something to be removed. “What stands in the way becomes the way,” (Marcus Aurelius). What arises is what you work with.
  • Post practice is also practice. What you learn, what you are working with, who you are follows you off the cushion, mat, page, leash. Eventually you realize it’s all practice.
  • All dharma (truth), all practice instruction can be distilled into one word, a single concept: relax. Soften, be gentle, slow down. Go ahead and try to stump this one, disprove it — so far, I’ve failed.
  • Keep your heart open, no matter what. Beautiful or brutal, tender or terrible.
  • Practice is clearing a space, experiencing spaciousness and clarity.
  • Transforming habitual patterns and discursive thinking, changing or removing that which no longer serves.
  • Preparing for death. Cultivating an awareness of impermanence, peace with this state, practicing nonattachment, letting go, surrender.
  • Seeing reality naked, stripped of it’s storyline, of our agenda.
  • Cultivating confidence and courage. As Susan Piver defines it, “Confidence is the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”
  • Surrender. Giving up perceived control and habitual resistance, awareness and acceptance of “this is what is, now.”
  • Being in relationship. With ourselves, with our suffering and that of others, with our shared experience, with reality, with basic goodness — fundamental wisdom and compassion.
  • Showing up is essential. Stop waiting for something to happen and just happen. Take your seat. Begin. Let go and begin again. Start over. Take the “half step that will change your life.” According to Susan Piver, the number of fresh starts available to you is infinite.
  • What you practice is your choice, specific to you. For me it’s yoga, meditation, writing, and dog. For others it’s running or ikebana or parenting. As long as it embodies the qualities of practice, it is practice.

Do you see, kind and gentle reader, why I said I could write a whole book about practice? ♥

Life Rehab Resource: Practice, Part Two

liferehabresourcesRemember how I said last week I could write a whole book about practice? How the post I wrote then couldn’t possibly say everything there was to say about it? I hadn’t planned a Life Rehab Resource post for today, but when I started writing and one accidentally fell out, it was about practice. So here we are, Part Two.

I just did my first yoga series out of a Yoga Journal. On one of our morning walks this past summer, we went by a house for sale that had a full box of about ten years worth of Yoga Journal magazine sitting out front on the sidewalk. I passed it up at first, tried to convince myself I didn’t need them, was in the process of decluttering, but ended up going back for them.

Now that I’m training to be certified as a yoga instructor, I decided to go back through the old issues and do some of the series, see if there was anything I wanted to “steal.” I’m going to try and do one new series a day, supplement my own practice. I’m not making it out of the house to as many classes, so need to do more on my own at home anyway, start building my own vinyasas (a series of poses).

When choosing a Yoga Journal this morning, I went with the earliest November issue I had that included a series, since that’s my birthday month. Oddly, even though the oldest issue I have is from 2003, there wasn’t a November issue with a vinyasa until 2008 — my last birthday before everything shifted. By February 2009, just a few months later, both Kelly and Obi would be diagnosed with cancer. I had been practicing yoga for a few years by then, using a mat Obi had chewed a tiny hole in when he was just a baby.

Yoga FeetJust like writing and meditation, the practice of yoga came to me in fits and starts. It was years after my first attempts that yoga became a regular thing for me. As with those two other practices, when it finally stuck it felt essential, like I’d die if I didn’t do it. And when I say “I’d die,” that’s not just an exaggerated way of saying how important it was, it’s the truth. Writing, yoga, meditation, and dog, practice, saved my life.

And just like with writing and meditation, the benefit compelled me to want to share, to teach the practice to others. This is where I find myself now, training to be certified as a yoga instructor, going through old Yoga Journals looking for ideas.

The series today was “Invite Quiet.” It suggested that November was a season for turning inward, just like nature does, and that this series of forward bends could help cultivate quiet.

Forward bends are, by their nature, introspective and meditative…Forward bends are calming to the nerves, soothing, and grounding. These poses teach us yoga is as much about surrender as effort, if not more so. ~Yoga Journal

This, I would suggest, is true of practice in general, of life, that it’s “as much about surrender as effort.”

A willingness to surrender is your greatest ally in forward bends [as in practice and in life], helping to quiet the mind and release stiffness…In the spirit of introspection, be more curious about the process than the destination. ~Yoga Journal

As I invited quiet in this practice this morning, other things came:

  • the sound of the wind
  • the climbing rose bush that needs trimmed back scraping against the front window
  • the occasional dog bark and car engine
  • the call of geese
  • the hum of the heater
  • the tick of the clock
  • the occasional shift, sigh or snore from the boys, all three of whom were napping
  • the memory of what the vet said this morning, that a clean MRI for Sam would be good news since “it might be a tumor”

There’s no place anymore that’s truly quiet, free of all sound. At the very least, there is always the sound of our breath, of our own heartbeat. Where there is life, there is noise. And yet, through practice there seems to be the opportunity to cultivate calm and space, to slow down and be still — which can feel a lot like quiet.