Practice often unearths deep, old, emotions. It makes us more fluent in our emotions. Sometimes, what comes up is anger.
Recently I've been talking with students about falling apart. We've talked of all the ways in which this practice unearths us, provokes us, and brings underlying issues to the forefront.
I've told them that at this point I recognize that everything can fall apart and I will still be okay. There is an underlying sense that I can handle the hard things in life. I trust that I can both take on and survive adversity. I have access to a deep pulse that drums steady even as everything around me- or inside me - feels unstable, unsafe, or just flat out wrong. I have this sense precisely because I have gone through transformation over and over again in these practices. Having gone through it, I trust it.
It's important to acknowledge that it's not a safe world out there. This can get buried in contemporary yoga culture with it's emphasis on bliss and freedom, power and release. We have to acknowledge adversity, suffering, and unfairness or we're participating in repression. We have to acknowledge suffering or we alienate huge swaths of the population who are living with adversity. Simply saying 'feel peace' or 'relax' or 'recognize your innate goodness' can rankle people and turn them away. This was my first experience of yoga, to be sure. Self-help and self love seemed cheap and unrealistic. And they are cheap and unrealistic in much of their contemporary expression. The vast majority of yoga studios and teachers left a sour taste in my mouth. Yet there was something in the yoga itself that drew me in. There were a few teachers, and hints in many of the teachings that took me years and years to draw out and find and come to terms with, that embraced me as I was and suggested my inner conflict was both very real and okay. That it was, actually, promising. There was, beyond any argument, my own experience.
Of course all of this is true not only of 'the world' - or within yoga culture where it shows up in projecting 'wisdom' onto the body of a teacher, attachment to or objectification of the body, escapism and magical thinking, addiction to what feels good in the moment or for ourselves - but it's true within our heart. We can't heal the world unless we're also able to acknowledge our own guttural need for healing.
We've all been wounded in some way. And we all have needs. These needs go beyond simply needing food and shelter and physical safety. We need to feel heard, seen, connected, and that we are vital. We need to feel that we matter. There are far too many of us walking through the world feeling that we don't.
We're half way through the year. The summer solstice has passed and the eclipse season is coming. This full moon involves Capricorn, ruled by Saturn, and occurs with Mars in retrograde. Saturn is the planet of being ringed in, constricted, a reckoning with all our limitations. It invokes honesty and reality. Mars is our sense of personal power or core identity, the essence of our deepest values and beliefs. In retrograde, all the qualities of Mars turn backwards or twist. That is, we're likely to question or doubt our values and core identity. We're likely to doubt or berate our selves.
This moon is likely to feel a little cold and dark. It could provoke detachment or withdrawal, even regression or retreat from the face of things. Fear is present, weather consciously or unwittingly influencing our moods and behaviors. Pessimism might leak in. Doubt and insecurity. There can be suffering, including suffering of the undue and unfair and unrelenting kind. There can be an urge to shut down. Worry. Worry. And however we personally respond to worry.
This isn't a good time to wallow in victimhood, though the urge may be there. It is a time to take responsibility for our emotions and behaviors and if necessary set boundaries.
It is a good time to work with deeply held - often inherited - core beliefs.
The gift of Capricorn, and of limitations themselves, is the way they teach us to step into our own lives. Capricorn's lesson is how to become ourselves, paradoxically, by overcoming ourselves. The end point is integrity without harshness, an ability to do the work of our lives without becoming attached to power or frozen by fear. Capricorn is tremendous in harnessing power, order, structure, in melding intention and actual behavior. But that behavior tends to be motivated by the will and detached from feeling. There is dedication and will galore, but without tenderness and vulnerability and feeling the will turns to stone, and loneliness comes.
Hence, our work, our really real work, has everything to do with getting out of our head and into our emotions. Capricorn's gift is learning to be okay in ourselves.
Capricorn is ruled by feminine Saturn, which means limitation - Saturn's rings - reflecting upon herself. It isn't like Aquarius, the masculine sign ruled by Saturn, where wisdom and the gifts of wisdom are poured out into society. It's an inner parsing. Saturn forces us to face the essential truths of life - including the obligations we acquire just by being born and members of society.
Saturn takes a very very long time to go through a full cycle, unlike the moon that does so every 30 days, the sun that does so once a year, or other planets like Mars who completes a cycle in two years.
Saturn takes 28-30 years to complete a full transit of the zodiac. Therefore, he represents time and the wisdom that comes with age. There is a very real sense in which every seven years or so, or one quarter of Saturn's transit, a person will go through a new stage of personal development. A different chapter in their life story.
Time is a really hard thing to reckon with or wrap our minds around. The inner pressure and awareness that we need to be safe and protected into the future comes from Saturn. We not only need to eat food today, or need a place to sleep today; we need a place to sleep and food to eat tomorrow and for the rest of our lives. Saturn is also the awareness of the past and what has happened to us, and is related to the ways in which we hang onto the past and have it dominate our thinking in the present.
The enormity of time and our relationship to it is the very the nature of Saturn and through Capricorn, we reflect upon this. We seal that relationship in our mind and heart, for better or worse. Capricorn is always a little bit scared of making mistakes, therefore very calculating and rational. An earth sign, Capricorn plays out in questions of structure and material reality, wealth and resources.
All that being true, Capricorn brings up questions of vulnerability and a tendency toward clinging and greed. This can turn people and events into commodities, seeing the whole world through the lens of self vs. everything else. There is an urgency, that inner pressure, toward things being useful and practical and rational. This is tricky, though, because once you've objectified a person or an event, there will be an underlying need to control or manipulate and an underlying anxiety that we may lose control or become vulnerable. There is an underlying mistrust of emotions and precisely because emotions are irrational and bring us out of 'control'. The Water of emotions and the subconscious dissolves the Earth of material resources.
In general, Capricorn is a hard working sign, good to their family, great providers with a strong ethical foundation and a rock solid sense of responsibility. Be careful about clinging to those principals and values out of fear; learn to be more in flow with the heart, and with the heart of others.
Facies - the face or eye of the archer. This is a tough, if not ruthless, concept. The root word is the same from which we get the word fascist. But it's also related to facere, or the latinate 'to make'. There are images of sticks being bound together, either for use as a punitive rod or with the connotation of strength in unity. As with anything, this influence can go either way: it can be the authoritarian perpetrator of violence or the humanitarian witness of violence who is stirred to make change. The urge here is strong, and you have to choose. To not choose is to become perpetrator to your own and the world's suffering. We know this already. To remain ignorant or not want to see directly creates suffering. Even though taking action can be frightening and may involve some humbling, some feeling, some vulnerable ickiness that we are discomfortable with, it is ultimately sweeter than keeping our head in the sand and our hearts under lock and key.
Kaus Borealis ~ This star, also in the archer constellation but southern, is a counter-balance to the more negative associations of Facies. It promotes humane ideals and a sense of justice, the right aim of the archer's bow that requires skill and flexibility, both. Right aim involves discretion and truth: when we level our gaze true we shoot straight. There are also implications of ideals, of aiming high, and of transcending distance or difficulty.
Mula Nakshatra - Darkness and shadow
This full moon is going to appear in the area of the sky known as Mula in the jyotish nakshatra wheel. Mula is represented by a bundle of roots, harking back to the influence of Facies. It's located very near a black hole at the center of our galaxy, and related to Ketu, the headless tail of the shadow serpent who represents that which is old and dead and still hanging on in us unconsciously. Mula is ruled by the goddess Nritti, a proto-Hindu version of Kali, one who rides a black crow, brings destruction, and abides in the realm of the dead. Her name means calamity.
That black hole symbolizes center, core, root and invokes questions as to what we need to uproot and what we need to plant. There is a lot, a hell of a lot, of heaviness and digging and uncomfortable revelation to all of these things, but there is also a possibility of working with our core beliefs for healing.
Embodying Core Healing
The difficulty of healing is that it's not thought or decided: it is felt. It is a felt sense. It happens in the body.
Think, for a moment, of some of your most precious relationships or deepest values. Think politically, spiritually, of your children or pet. Think of your childhood home with its scents and its textures, the voices. Think of someone or something you have lost.
We don't think these things; we feel them. We feel them in our gut. This is why working with our body leaves us so inexplicably, past understandingly, changed. There is rage in the body. And fear. And tenderness.
When there has been a wounding, there is a severance. Trauma has been defined as blocking off part of our human experience because we can't, at that moment in time, integrate it. The problem of course is that when we block off part of our life, we have to block off good feelings and experiences as well. We are no longer whole. The block was, at the time, the best possible thing we could do. In a very real sense, it kept us alive. It allowed us to get here and now. But so often those blocks are no longer keeping us alive, they are not necessary, but they are familiar and ingrained. What was once our survival has become our own limitation.
Serenity of the flesh
Yoga chitta vrittri nirodha. Yoga sutra 1.2
yoga is going past the mind (chitta) to inner wholeness (nirodha).
Nirodha is one of the yogic concepts I've struggled with the most. I have beat my head on it, and the meat of my palms, and it still stands as a mystery. Nirodha is translated as stilling, constricting, stopping, controlling, or ending. But I don't know what it would mean to 'stop' or 'control' the mind, because you can't stop the mind.
When you go deep into the teachings, however, you come across slightly different understandings of nirodha. It may not imply stopping or controlling all of the mind, just the patterns laid down by our past. It may, perhaps, refer to using the attentive qualities of mind to witness the still, calm center that is a part of every human being's capacity.
All human beings have an inner well of silence and serenity. It is birthright. It is what it means to be human. It is inseparable from being alive.
Nirodha entails both our ability to still and disidentify from the relentless turning of our mind (chitta vrittri) that prevent clear seeing (a verb, a thing we can do) and our ability to recognize or witness the underlying stillness or wholeness (nirodha as a noun) that is our essential nature (purusa).
So long as we identify with our turbulent mind or various beliefs it's cooked up, whenever we forget our basic wholeness, we feel that something is amiss or wrong in our life. We feel that something is amiss, wrong, or lacking in ourselves.
Contrary wise, when we embody our wholeness, we recognize an indestructible and unchanging inner resource that enables us to face the world and the difficulties of being alive with equanimity, joy, and serenity.
I am saying that nirodha is not thought. It is felt. It happens in the body.
In studies of various mindfulness practices and trauma or stress, it has been affirmed that all human beings can invoke a sense of safety and security. In military studies, one man was asked to call up an image that made him feel safe and he said he was holding his weapon, his finger on the trigger, and his feet were squared. While that image makes me personally squirm, when this man was asked if he felt secure, he said you bet I do. Another man said he thought of making love to his wife.
Point being: we all have radically different and personalized imagery. But we all have something. Studies have shown that all people can, using imagery and suggestion, invoke a sense of security that changes their biochemistry.
The studies have also shown, however, that once we drop the image our biochemistry goes back on auto-pilot.
When advanced meditators, however, drop the image, their changed brain activity and blood chemistry continues.
We discover our wholeness or through experiencing the bodily sensations of being. Being is universal. It is somatic and non verbal. It is a felt sense. It is beyond what we typically call 'the mind'. Again, everyone has their own archetypes and images and language for this thing. Call to mind some of your own as you read through this list of examples:
peaceful. calm. whole. indescrible. warm. undeniable. everywhere. connected. safe. refuge. sanctuary. well being. serene. pure love.
Being is a dynamic, living, background presence. It is always there, but it goes unnoticed until it's directly pointed out. When we lose touch with it, when we forget our essential nature, we easily lose touch with our wholeness.
Beliefs are implicitly about relationship. Our relationship to money, for example. Or authority. Or gender. God or men or mother figures or sexuality. Whatever.
The primary relationship, of course, is to ourselves.
These practices help us reclaim our wholeness, not by implying that the world is safe or has our best interests in mind, but by helping us address our sense of safety, serenity, or wholeness within ourselves. This is why any variation of these teachings that implies a teacher, or a space, a gemstone or the accomplishment of a certain regime is the way to wholeness is a by-pass. They are fraudulant versions of the teaching that may be appealing but aren't, actually, true to the bone. They'll leave us conflicted or alone. They may work for a while, but our inner core beliefs continue to surface and resurface as soon as we leave the studio or return home from a workshop.
Remember that the physiology of advanced, long term meditators was different than those of novice meditators. These things happen through repetition. These things can take time.
A few weeks ago, I was asking participants of the deeper practice online work to call to mind their 'perfect place'. Everyone would have their own physiological and psychological response to this practice. Some might remember a special place. Some might invent one, out in the woods or alongside the ocean perhaps. And some might simply struggle with the words themselves, struggle with themselves. Even that experience is rich with information.
Once we have tapped into imagery, memory, or pure imagination, we take that process further by staying with the feeling but letting the image or the practice, go. We stay with the feeling. The feeling is real. And it is in us, not the object.
What we are doing, in such a practice, is giving the lived experience of having a place. Our experiences are what influence us. Our experiences make us who we are. Practice provides experiences. Of course, if our experience of life has been deeply fragmented or harmful for a long period of time or hard enough just once, we'll need a deeper and deeper well of experience of being whole. Generally speaking, I think it takes a whole lifetime. And it never, ever, gets us over or changes the real experiences we've had in our lives.
It doesn't change the truth of what's happened to us. It simply gives us a new relationship to the characters at play. I mean this, and I mean it loud as thunder: yoga doesn't change the world, it changes us.
Many of us are familiar with the term sankalpa. We're often told it means intention or vow, and we may have been asked to 'set an intention'.
But we're not often taught vilkapa. I think the two teachings should go together.
San means to bring closer, and vi means to take you away. Kalpa means a long period of time (Saturn is time, remember). Kalpa means eon, means decades, means through your lifetime or maybe even multiple lifetimes. Kalpa also means ritual or rite. Kalpa is what unfolds in your lifestory.
So: a sankalpa brings us closer to what unfolds over time. Vikalpa is what takes us away from unfolding ritual.
Vikalpa is what arises when we feel limited, lacking, or broken. It's the voices in our head and the physical sensations that react in our body to such terms as 'peace', 'serenity', or whatever the hell. Vikalpa was my absolute disgust, rising like bile whenever a yoga teacher told me to breath and let go. It was bells and whistles and blood and terror in me screaming that if I let go, everything would fall apart. Everything. Everything. Me.
We're not taught to work with vikalpa. We're never taught to see and feel and taste what comes up. We're never told that they are exactly the thing we need to work with to get through.
When vikalpa arises, cultivate the opposite. Yoga Sutras 2.33
On the simplest level, pratipaksha bhavana means when we're having a really hard day, we should take a break and go to the movies before we come back to the problem.
It also means that we should use opposing poles to deepen our well.
We can work with our vilkalpa by cultivating nirodha, or that felt-sense of aliveness and just being, even as we are aware of constriction, limitation, fear or terror or pain. Like moving into and out of shapes in our asana practice, we can oscillate our awareness back and forth between reaction and felt-sense-of-embodiment. We can keep coming back to the felt-sense-of-embodiment.
sankalpa: I am safe within myself. I don't betray or abandon myself.
vikalpa: I'm not safe within myself. I don't trust myself.
sankalpa: I enjoy my physical body. I am strong. I am alive. I am beautiful.
vikalpa: I'm ashamed. Guilty. Powerless.
Notice that I didn't say "I am safe in this (or any given) situation." The prompt is 'with myself'.
What are some of your core beliefs? are there ways in which you can see them and care for them? Are there ways in which you can directly cultivate the opposite? This might be gritty, snotty, simple simple body things or an investigation into how things like punishment and love were meted out when you were a kid. It might be looking at how you think about food, or sex. It might be saying I need a hug now, or realizing that you can take a hug from a tree if there is no appropriate human being around.
Richard Miller teaches that vilkapas are messangers. They are not something we want to get rid of. They are messangers who show up to tell us that we've split or separated from the unfolding rite of our life. It's important to note, though, that sometimes we should separate from scenarios or relationships or behaviors. But we can realize we are separate from an Other without having to separate from ourselves. Developmentally, no preceeds yes. Children learn to say no before they say yes. But more essentially, we have to be able to feel ourselves and our boundaries before we can effectively 'join' with anything else. No preceeds yes.
Vilkapa tells us when we have severed ourselves. Pratipakshava bhavana is cultivating - or doing - the opposite. It's going to the movies before you come back and realizing that you aren't stuck figuring it out right now. But it's also becoming a person who can give herself the love she was denied, exploring physical practices that invoke nirodha, learning to take care of your money or your heart like the awkward learning to ride a bicycle.
There is a story from the buddhist tradition. Buddha said to Ananda: last night I recognized Mara and he went on his way. This happened many nights over the course of time. Buddha was 'noticing', as we are taught to do. But eventually, the Buddha said: last night Mara came, and I recognized him, and together we had many cups of tea and long conversations. The story goes on to say that Mara and the Buddha eventually became close. They became intimate. Mara became a student and together the two followed the path.
In the yogic tradition, it's said that there are three stages of working with the messengers. First, shravana. First, we hear the messenger at the door. We become aware. But in the manana stage, we hear the knock and get up and walk to the door. We open the door to the messenger. In the third stage, nididyhasana, we welcome the messenger and do deep contemplation with it. We become intimate with it, and together walk down the unfolding path.
You are not separate from your suffering. But there is also, deep within your suffering, some part of you that is breathing, listening, on-going. The life force is still there. And it is that thing that heals.
What would it mean to go closer to the ritual unfolding of your lifetime?
I'm sitting in swealtry heat, listening to a thunderstorm coming on. It rumbles. The air quivers, it's so thick with humid. The sky is turning purple with tall clouds that roil and bulge like muscle, are veined with gold threads of lighting, it's all very electric and portent and yet promising of some kind of rinse and release. Nothing feels like cleanse like the moments after a really powerful summer storm.
It's Memorial Day, and so everyone is either out of town, sitting at a lake cabin somewhere, or if they've stuck around they are hiding in air conditioned depths or wilting in the yard with an odd long weekend, a rare Monday off.
In a few hours, I'll be leading my regular class at Tula. I intend to make it moony, and cool, and balmy.
We need a little balm.
This full moon is the last of the season. Generally, seasons have three full moons, occasionally four, but then one of them is called a Blue Moon. Next year that will happen in the spring season, between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. But not this year. For now, this is the finality and fullness of Spring.
And it hasn't been easy. The last few lunations have been a little like ripping off a band-aid. On the one hand, there has been a deep and primal stirring and shakedown. Personal truths, conflicted realities, and a deep longing for justice have been stirred up. I mean, voices have been found. Old wounds have been opened. The pain of the world has created genuine longing. Structures have been proved to be unstable.
On the other hand, simply opening wounds is not a healing of them. Big feelings, old and generational questions, deep systemic turmoil and personal responsibility are never going to be an easy things to sit with. There will always be resistance to change. There will be resistance when we speak our truth. And there will be resistance to systemic change. I mean this, socially. I mean this, personally. People get mean and triggers are triggered. Bullies will bully, hard. Discomfort looms. When we're uncomfortable we're conservative, reactive, prone toward duck and cover moves into what feels familiar even if we know it won't solve things in the long run.
This new moon opens in Sagittarius, if you're looking at the tropical zodiac, Scorpio if you're using the Vedic or sidereal calendar (more on that, some other day. Later). Both interpretations point to a similar psychological and anthropological truth: answering soul and social questions requires depth. It requires something that has a tinge of the sacred to it. Answering calls up and rarefies personal beliefs and values. The questions are poorly served by the merely ornamental. The trappings of spirituality, hand me down values, or merely doing what feels good in the moment might be fine if we're just trying to cope. But there's more to life than coping with it. Generally speaking, coping skills and healing strategies are altogether different things.
This full moon is about rooting around in our beliefs, re-examining our spiritual teachings and prejudices, finding healing in communion through things that serve the soul - and humanity - rather than the ego or the imagination. There's a tinge of courageously burning through inhibition and doubt. Most of that comes through the tough work of personal growth, acting out of deeper values and unwavering principals, communal alliances and emergent connections. There's a whole lot of boundaries, questioning. But, this full moon is actually rather quieting and soothing, full and lush like, compared to the astrological riot that has been happening. It's like the charged hush of an odd monday off, or the power of a summer thunderstorm.
The planet Jupiter looms large (everything about Jupiter is large. Swollen. Growth. Support. Jupiter is about teachers and gurus and guidance, spiritual and principled truths, the more-than-personal) as does a grand trine in water for Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune. Jupiter is all about support, wisdom, and expansion. Water brings a sense of swelling, heaviness, flooding, and flow...water is also a connective element, a cohesive and communicative element, related to moon and to emotions. So much of the pain of aforementioned ripping off of band-aids and showing up of conflict might have a chance to resolve through support, love, interconnectivity and coming to greater honesty and integrity with ourselves. Financially, relationally, socially. Personally.
I've mentioned in the last post that this summer is going to have some serious reckoning, some life and love lessons, some willed or unwilled looking at our own stories, beliefs, behaviors and histories. This moon here is a chance to sooth and rinse and nourish those pangs with a reminder that life lessons are best solved not with palliatives, but with sincerity. I repeat: life lessons are best solved not with palliatives, but with sincerity.
You can't plug a broken heart with a jerry-rigged solution. Nor can you fix deeper social problems with simple, single, or propagandist answers. We know that, right about now. Our egos and hearts and social worlds are all a little tender. And this Full moon is less about howling wild or losing sleep or losing control than it is a sweetness of realizing it's okay, actually. It's okay.
Have you ever taken a walk under the full moon on the cusp of summer and felt, somehow, loved? That's what I mean. That's where we are. Emotionally exhausted but okay, right here in this moment in time.
If you can, spend time today and in the next few weeks with loved ones, in simple but appreciated sweetness. Allow creativity. Let some of the routine or dogmatic or simply stubborn, go. Notice where in your own life things have become swollen and charged, and look for that increased communication, that flow. Seriously: look for, notice, and initiate communication.
Somewhere, something is giving in great rushes. Somewhere, something is cut to the bone sacred and meaningful and loving, even if it is radically unlike what we've come to expect love or meaning to be.
Look for connection and intersectional touchstones. There are relationships and pathways. They may be untraditional, unexpected, seemingly foreign. But they are absolutely true.
Full Moon in Sagittarius (Western Astrology)
Sagittarius is deeply spiritual, representative of the soul's journey from blind faith to wisdom. He's a dual sign, half man and half horse, evocative of the evolution of spiritual principals from the merely pretty, or the merely perfunctory or rote, to the real. That duality reflects back into the conflict that lies in our own private experience, the duality that simply is in the subconscious working of things. It both creates a sense of wanderlust and horizon gazing, quest taking, longing for meaning, and it can veer off into the simply dogmatic, ritualized, overly religious, or looking for wisdom in others.
It can backslide into spiritual bypass, is what I'm saying.
Core values don't change easily. They can be trenchant. Sagittarius tends to feel the pressure between ego, career, family and social roles and deep underlying truth or principals. There is a kind of friction, and there's a kind of passion. There is a driving force to stay committed, to uphold ideals and be upright in a world that is often low down and dirty. Or just mundane. Sagittarius feels torn between going forth boldly and not wanting to rock the boat. There is a kind of constant inner re-calibration, a testing, a veering between settling and a refusal to settle because they know, something, deep inside. There is an inner light, and inner call, and an inner truth. But there is also reality.
And this is a good. Unless we can look at our personal beliefs and practices from a perspective of questioning, they become hollow. It is good to really revisit what is most true in our heart, what we've learned, what we're doing and why we're doing it.
Sagittarius teaches the difficulty of facing our own conservative nature, examining our dogmatism, and honing our way to real.
Sagittarius is ruled by masculine Jupiter. Jupiter is a tremendous planet, protective, ponderous, pulling. It's said to be responsible for growth, wisdom, evolution, self-development, faith, higher purpose, and sanctuary in a life. It's related to spiritual teachings, teachers, mentors. Out of balance, Jupiter veers toward a sense of hopelessness, loss of faith, or simply ignorance of the role of such things in our lives. Jupiter teaches enlightened psychology, wisdom, higher vision, hope. Whereas Pisces aspects the interior, emotional questions of personal growth, teachings and teachers, ideals and soul, Sagittarius expresses the outward exploration and expression of those same questions. Faith, hope, optimism surge through Jupiter's signs, lending a deeply spiritual and religious flavor. Once we land on a true and authentic course, Sagittarian devotion is unshakeable. Devotion is soothing in and of itself. It is the infusion of meaning. It's enlighten, ing. It is luminous.
But the longing for belief or attachment to beliefs brings up a sense of vulnerability around our beliefs. People who were raised Catholic, for example, tend to struggle with the faith even after they've left the church. Others who crave spirituality cling to the forms and identifiers of spirituality without really testing it out in real life. Those who feel themselves seeking are prone to mistake the role of Guru, project spirituality or learning or truth onto others rather than landing responsibility in their own practices. Spiritual practices themselves become a kind of mask or escapism.
The testing of faith, the honing of questions subjects our beliefs to transformation.
This is a scary prospect, for sure. But it's also where transformation and actual expansion is. It's where we find and reclaim the beauty and truths of our childhood Catholicism, for example, and realize how deeply personal some of the ethics or sacraments are aside from the parts we've decided to reframe. Or, it's where our yoga practices come off of the mat and into the heart.
Sagittarius is a moving, flexible, questing sign that urges us to find personal and lived expressions of truth rather than accepting dogma or retreating into what feels good in the moment.
Again, what that looks like right now is a need to look into our principals, clarify and communicate our values, resolve what has gotten muddy or unsustainable with something that resounds with deeper meaning.
Or, in Scorpio (if you're leaning toward Vedic Astrology)
Scorpio is ruled by Mars reflecting upon himself. The nature of Mars is to bring strength, just as the nature of Jupiter is to bring wisdom. Uniquely this summer and into fall, Mars is going to be stomping around, reforming boundaries, shifting foundations and god knows what all. In Scorpio, Mars strengthens the emotional.
Boon and blasting, both. Scorpio is a water sign, which again brings in emotionality, mooniness and subconscious elements (as opposed to what seems purely material and obvious and outward and 'real life', like). Strong emotions can be turbulent, just as much as fire can be. Think of monsoon, of hurricane, think of drowning or sinking. Scorpio questions are about learning to float, not drown.
Scorpio is a fixed sign, which means it is trying to stabilize something, but Scorpio is generally struggling to do that because water is so fluid. Not only are our emotions fluid and constantly changing, but so too are all the things we've emotionally invested in. So Scorpio tends to worry about the things they've emotionally attached to and often tries to control those things. Self. Others. Things.
They are notorious for being able to penetrate deeply into the emotions of others. They know exactly how to reach in and touch a nerve or a need, but of course this only lasts for so long.
Eventually others may get tired of the emotional power struggle and Scorpio can lose the battle. When this happens, the dreaded emotional loss feels like a loss of self entirely, since Scorpio has so over invested. Scorpio needs to learn how to navigate and flow with emotions rather than try to control them or the emotions of others. Emotional strength means not being afraid of emotional change and fluidity. Through the nature of Scorpio, we learn to concentrate our emotional power on something more than just feeling good. We tend to see the depth of our emotional fears and insecurities. Of course that's the great teaching and genius, as well as the challenge.
Once Scorpio makes an emotional commitment to something, they are tenacious and will not let go until they feel they’ve exhausted it. Scorpio needs to realize that growth isn't always dramatic, and drama isn't necessarily truthful or more purposive than serenity. Growth can be organic, rather than violent, and it's often a lesson of gratitude and confidence in what has already happened. It is not necessarily something that’s full of upheaval and drama leaving everyone’s guts on the floor or hearts on their sleeves; even big or hard emotions can resolve to love. Growth can have serenity in it.
Friend of the Divine and Following Success
This full moon peels the sky with Anuradha Nakshatra, a star in the constellation of Scorpio. Anuradha is symbolized both as a spear - or a staff used as a weapon - and in later evolution of that spear, a lotus flower. It's born in the aggressive, passive aggressive, or turbulent wounded depths of Scorpio but blossoms into friendship, alliance, and devotion.
Anuradha translates to following, or succeeding, the goddess Radha, one of the companions of Krishna. The translation following or succeeding is split and intentional: it implies both devotion, and actual success based on that devotedness to the divine. But this requires a little more parsing.
Radha was unique among Krishna's companions in that she was not his lover. She was his friend. The concept of god-as-the-divine-friend is important in this area of life: success comes from friendship, whereas romantic involvement, emotional involvement, and Scorpio's revelation of fears and insecurities, tends to lack the objective and devotional. It mistakes devotion for obsession. The lesson of Anuradha is the wisdom of friendliness. The deity of this place in the sky is Mitra (friend, friendly, or friendliness). Mitra's gift or blessing is an ability to befriend enemies and unify allies, tending to open hearts and minds to common goals.
Krishna's most devoted companion was not his wife (wives), but his friend. True enough, isn't it, that we can often share our problems with good friends more openly than we can with partners or family? Friendship can be this devoted simply because a friendship is not as needy or vulnerable as is, say, a sexual relationship, a job relationship, or a familial one. We can confess to peers or friends what we couldn't say to a husband, a boss, or a judge like god or spiritual advisor. A friend is a really good place for our intentions, our insecurities, or our questions to land. Anuradha is about anchoring the heart and stabilizing emotions on solid structures, commonality and inter-connectivity, friendship, rather than on things that reflect our own needs.
Ceremony, Suggestions, Tools
Reflecting on Full
This full moon is really thick, and sweet like water is sweet. Think about it: from now until the Summer Solstice we're going to have some of the sweetest and freshest and most nakedly delicious fruits of the season, days of the year, weather of the summer. It's like cream - the sweetest stuff that rises to the top. We're in the midst of things that don't need embellishment, things that are perfect in themselves. Shoulders can be bare. Food doesn't need salt. Skies don't need telescopes. Days don't need to-do lists, all the time.
Looking for rituals or to the moon is really just a way to reflect on our own cyclical nature, and these coming days in particular are demonstrably full. Our lives are full.
What, in your life right now, gives or lends or juices your life with fullness? Notice that I don't say this has to be a positive thing. But there is something in our lives, right at this moment, lighting it up and keeping us going. We so often reflect on what we don't have or what we want. Even our spiritual or yoga practices veer that way. It's important that we sometimes reflect on what we already have, right here and now. What is that thing in this moment or at this stage? Even loss is holy. Even work is sacred. If we don't realize where we're finding meaning, we'll never be able to wonder if it's workable, discover more meaning, let go or discover. There is no yoga with out vi-yoga. Neti, neti.
Honing the spiritual practices
It is a really good time to re-open your spiritual teachers, principals, and practices to question. Who or what are your teachers and teachings? Do they still feel legitimate? What are you practicing and why? Part of the truth here is that we grow, and sometimes we out-grow. Does what you do actually line up with what you believe or want, or are you projecting somewhere?
Part of that process is celebrating, gratitude, connecting or reconnecting. Revisit a favorite book or make contact with an important teacher from your path. Recall a practice that was meaningful to you and spend some time with it from this new vantage point.
And/or, realize there's a hole and fill it with wonder. There are so many resources, so many options, so many opportunities. Sometimes getting out of your dogma or rote is the best way to remember what it is to love. Go to someone else's yoga class or sacred space. Join a family member or friend in their rituals. No one ever said you were supposed to stay in your yoga class or belief set, forever. Ask what other people are doing that feels meaningful, purposive, healing.
Don't waste your summer working. Nuff said.
Use your Scents
You can encourage your sense of adventure, open heartedness, and exploration with things like eucalyptus, yang-ylang, and gerenium. Lavender, neroli, jasmine and frankincense can all help with stress and tension. The addictive nature can be cooled by basil, juniper, or bergamot.
My favorite in the last week or so has been carrier oil + sandalwood (relax fire and pitta and hyper-analysis into spirit) + bergamot (don't be so self righteous). It feels so dead on that I'm guessing I'll use it for a month or more.
This new moon, May 15, is a tap tapping at the heart of the spiritual warrior.
Which isn't necessarily a comfortable thing.
Spiritual warriorship is almost always about sacrifice, honesty, revelation and upheaval. This new moon is going to have a lot of that.
Taurus the earthy sweet, Venus tinged and spring laden, is all about stability. Taurus wants to give good solid ground, if not a home, if not deep intimacy and shelter to what and who she loves.
Taurus wants to adopt all the stray kittens and shelter puppies, mother everybody who's hurting, have confessional soul talks curled up on the couch. If Aries called up individuality, ideals, gumption and the capacity to speak to power from a deep sense of righteousness, Taurus wants to pull those ideas out of the sky and put our feet on the ground. Taurus is drawn to the beautiful and luxurious and is related to all things concerning our resources and finances; appreciation, fertility, romance. Taurus is about earthly pleasures, learning life lessons as the thing we are put on this earth to do, sexuality, money, and relationship.
Getting real is always hard. But there are some unique aspects to this year and this particular turn of the wheel. They’ll stoke sacrificial fire to a blaze by challenging some of our most precious identities and longstanding behaviors, which might make the first aspect of this lunar cycle feel destabilizing and chaotic. The latter phase of this moon cycle will deepen and mellow.
Of course, some people will find these elements exciting. Elements are like that: some people thrive where others struggle.
And here's why any of this is important: looking to moon cycles and stars is not a prescriptive; it's rummaging around in spiritual truths. Spiritual truths can be interpreted to fit whatever argument or point of view you want, or diluted to the merely ornamental. But they can also provoke deeper insight. It's a direct invocation of free will. We all have different aspects of self and a multitude of different areas in life; spiritual truths will show up and play out differently for everyone. These are stories of soul and questions of personhood happening in the actual world.
For example, the black and white, ruthless and headfirst nature of Aires is going to be challenged by and challenge the pacific, why-can't-we-all-just-get-along Taurus in us.
Life works like that, oscillating and shifting. Now this, now that. Given our individual nature, conditions, and circumstances, the 'energies' of the universe will be felt in radically different ways.
Don't worry: by the full moon these riotous aspects will have worked themselves to a clarity. Taurus is about stability, after all. Even if that process requires some dismantling of the old, it's result is always about living truth.
Taurus is ruled by Venus, expressing the interior or feminine qualities of pleasure, comfort, serenity, love, relationship, gathering and holding dear that which makes us happy. She's all fertility, wealth, and growth.
Taurus is symbolized by the Bull, which has always been a symbol for banking, commerce, stock (literally) exchanges, wealth and luxury. It speaks on archetypal levels to the development of humanity to a pastoral, agricultural species who learned to cultivate and work with the fertility of the earth. The bull's horns have always been associated with the crescent moon. As a species, we work well with seasons and cycles. We see our inner, emotive, psychological aspects reflected in the moon, the sea, and the earth. Indeed the moon is exalted in Taurus: the draw toward the emotional and happiness is steady, stubborn, unyeilding, loyal, persistent as a bull. As an earth sign, Taurus has one of the heaviest psychological pulls. The soul wants to evolve, and she'll keep fighting or coming up with stubbed toes and bruised hearts until she does.
This is where some of our inner conflict is born: Taurus craves emotional well being and security at all costs, so she can be resistant to change. She feels vulnerable in turmoil or the experiential and tends to compensate with attempts to maintain consistency and domestic security. Taurus can cling to form and situation, exhibiting a pretty unique blend of stubbornness and compromise. Think of how a mother or lover will forgive all shortcomings in the beloved. Once an idea, relationship, or reality is embraced as her own, she'll never wanna let it (or him, or it) go. But she's willing and quite able to endure emotional hardship in order to sustain what she loves. Taurus has a temper, but it's slow and deep. So, too, are her grudges. She's just as slow to forgive as she is to get mad. Her peace loving nature gives strong powers of compromise which, however, can be a barrier to positive change if Taurus aspects are kept in their lower stages; Taurus may keep doing the same old things long past the time they are fruitful. She’ll fight to preserve situations that would be better served by calling done done. Taurus will dig her heels in, flip up her nose, binge on the pleasurable while avoiding harsher realities.
Taurus is her own worst enemy. Which means she's also her own knight in shining armor, if she ever gets around to realizing it.
EVOLUTION OF TAURUS
The steadfast nature and downright emotive strength of Taurus means incredible spiritual transformation can happen when we learn to embrace emotional change as a creative force and not fear being alone. That transformation tends to have a lot of the ascetic to it - it can burn, feel cruel, take away, feel like loss. Transformation here means learning some spiritual lessons, and maybe some love lessons. Once we learn to give up our clingy, merging, security at all costs behaviors, the inherent power and loyal nature of Taurus can lead to remarkable spiritual insights and strengths, given her natural disposition to devotion. Learning to let our kids become individuals and to love our partners as individuals, or merit our own worth regardless of relationship, is some of the grittiest work we’ll ever do.
There's a difference between gratification and truth, I mean. The Taurus in us needs to learn that truth. The quest for pleasure can stand in the way of deeper wisdom. To thine own self be true is a good reflection for Taurus in us; we have to parse what we want in the moment from what we - and those around us - really need.
URANUS AND MARS - A SUMMER OF LIFE LESSONS, SEVEN YEARS OF RECLAMATION
So Aires to Taurus is always going to be a reality check. It's a working over of airy ideals to the grit of reality. A tempering of the individual will to the collective whole. It's tricky. Commitment and letting go always go together. Always.
But here's why this year and this transit is going to be particularly disruptive: on the very same day as the New Moon, Uranus enters Taurus for the first time since 1942.
Uranus is the planet of upheaval, breakdowns, breakthroughs, and awakenings. She spins sideways. She is loud, extreme, and liberating through wreckage. She's creative through disruption. Situated in Taurus for the next seven years, she's going to upset to things like finance, wealth, banking, and how we deal with the riches of the earth.
This isn't a bad thing. Nor is it a surprise. The exploitative ways we have been doing things to the planet and to its peoples has been engineering its own combustion for decades. It's fair to say that the way we use planetary resources, what we consider currency, and how we do business is going to be different in seven years’ time. Alternative currencies are already circulating, small and local and co-operative makers are using things like Etsy, Patreon, and crowd sourcing in radical ways. Social media and the internet – Uranus’ symbolic tools if she were to have them - are radicalizing everything. Everything: news to how movies and books are made, education is shared, relationships are found. Individually, this seven year cycle is going to prompt shift in some prominent area of your life. It may not be finance, for you. It may be relational, or how you're using your own body, or how you define success.
On global level, Uranus in Taurus will change the ways in which we do business, think of currencies, and how we work with natural resources. We're going to be radically revisioning how we live on the planet for the next seven years. There's going to be conflict. The old guard is going to change. But how change happens is a very open question. For some, this is going to feel righteous, exhilarating, like opportunity. For others it's going to feel terrifying.
But it's just change. It doesn't have to be feared. There's a wisdom to conscientiously watching and witnessing as these things conflict, fall apart, and break wide open. There’s a willed ignorance to believing it’s all going to settle down and go back to the way it’s always been.
As if that weren't enough, on May 16 Mars and Uranus will come into a unique relationship in the sky. That is, their energies will clash. As I said, Uranus is going to be in this cycle for the coming 7 years. Mars is going to pass through some charged places all summer long, making this a summer of love lessons, ultimate truths, and deep paradigm shifts.
Whenever Mars shows up, anger, injustice, the ways in which we humans tend to throw each other or parts of ourselves away, all the raging and explosive ways in which we haven't yet learned to work with anger or deal with suffering are going to flare up like holy fire. Or a bad rash. Mars is going to be around all summer long - so it's quite possible this will be a season of facing and healing some very old wounds. It will be heartfelt, personal, and societal.
Again, this isn't a bad thing. Nor is it a up out of nowhere thing. These are deep questions and imbalances that have been underground and repressed for generations. They're just coming to a hot and heavy boil, now.
The unsettling goes on: this New Moon happens in conjunction with the fixed star Algol. Algol is sometimes called the demon star, related to the blinking and still seeing eye of Medusa's severed head. She’s an archetype of raging against injustice.
Medusa was a priestess. She was raped by Poseidon and then blamed for her own rape, sold out by her guardian and sister and then decapitated. It's a horrible story. It holds patriarchy's violence up to the light. She tells the story of what happens when the oppressed are blamed, shamed, or silenced for their own suffering. That kind of rage is so powerful it’ll will turn hot blooded things to cold stone and incite terror in the powers that be. There's a truth to Medusa's rage, a deep surge of power in the long suppressed, it's hard but it has the ring of truth to it. There is a wildness to gazing from our wounds to oppressive structures. We see the truth of this is in the painful dialogue surrounding the #metoo movement, let alone the aching wounds of feminism and racism being both sold out and turned against one other at one and the same time. This is what happens when the values and language of the oppressed is stolen, denied, and used against them. This what happens when the rage of oppression is forced back into the victim's throat.
Of course none of this is new. None of these issues are new issues. But their time is here. Old wounds are some of the most painful to look at, the hardest to heal. We're in a cycle of speaking directly to power. Such a thing asks for deep vulnerability personally - you can't speak to power, otherwise - and it will tear former power structures to the ground.
All this to say that there is a lot happening. There are personal and social questions at play and they are not light ones. There are real changes happening that may feel threatening. There's a naked voltage to this moment in time and it should all be held with a lot of compassionate awareness.
There are going to be glitches and discomforts if these things are to be reckoned with, and they have to be reckoned with. There may be risings of your own medusa story and further revelations on the world stage.
We're directly involved in the questions of what it means to heal and find justice, how to fight and what we fight for, what we choose to protect and where we're going to place our values as a human community. These questions and fall outs are happening on the highest levels of society. But they're going to keep showing up in smaller, more intimate structures, including things like the yoga world and our personal lives.
The good news - and there is good news - is that the moon is absolutely exalted in Taurus. That means moon's qualities - psychology, emotion, feelings, movement, connection and relationship and interconnectivity - are strong now. If you're feeling rattled, if things feel unstable, recognize it's not you. It’s not you and it's not insane. We're in truth. These things have been waiting for answers, and we are the answers.
KRITTIKA - WHERE FIRE FALLS DOWN ON EARTH
According to Vedic astrology, this new moon opens in the lunar 'mansion' of Krittika before passing onto Rohini at 10 degrees of Taurus. Krittika is harsh, sharp, cruel feeling whereas Rohini is one of the most beloved and sweet places for the moon to go. I'm saying: things might feel a little prickly but they're headed toward a better place.
Krittika is the Pleiades in the sky. It's related to Agni, the god of fire. The word Krittika means 'knife' or blade or razor, and it has all the connotations of cutting away to reveal truth and excising the past. The blade is sharp enough to pierce ego's delusions, which might mean you see the bulk and weight of stories of baggage you’re still lugging around. People who are born during Krittika are often said to be cruelly blunt: they'll tell you what they see and be exacting. But the honesty of Krittika isn't personal or even antagonistic. It's criticism coming from truth and purity. While this cut may feel negative, it's only because we don't necessarily want to know the truth. Be gentle, feel the ground, you can handle it. And if and when we realize we can handle it, we end up in a place that actually feels a whole lot better.
The Pleiades are literally a conglomerate of hot, young stars. Krittika is related to Mars and his symbology of fire. It's the hinge where Aires becomes Taurus, where fire and gumption and passion meld with the connection, serenity, warmth, and beauty of Taurus. Krittika is analogous to the Vedic fire pit, where you burn offerings in an external display of offering your inner impurities to the fire of consciousness.
The god is Agni, fire eater and feet burner, god of transformation. When we offer something into the fire, Agni eats it and turns it to smoke. This smoke than drifts up to heaven. Agni is the god who takes our intentions up to heaven, internally. When we make internal sacrifices, it is the inner fire that rises up. Even if you turn fire upside down, the flame still rises. Fire - and the fire of consciousness - always rises. Always. This is why meditation is the interior practice of Vedic fire ceremony: we burn our karma in the fire pit of truth, and higher truth is the result.
THINGS CAN GET BETTER:
All of this shifting, deeply moving, hard to handle energy is good. This is good. It's like when you go to a therapist and then feel gutted, but end with real personal change. Or like when you admit alcoholism and start recovery. Or have a really hard ugly cry with a girlfriend or partner - it feels so ugly but when it's through you have incredible new levels of sincerity and bonding, you'll get hugs and comfort and you have permission to eat ice cream. While these themes are going to be hot and tender in the first stages of this lunar cycle, the full moon and next lunar mansion are all about stabilizing, soothing, finding balm. Ultimately, we're headed toward emotional connectivity and making really strong bonds, finding new depths. As the full moon approaches we'll be unearthing some serious emotional material and deep feelings. The kind that have a tinge of the sacred to them. We're verging in the turmoil toward a resolution of love and a swell of support. There will be brushes with the higher meaning and experience of love, identity, and relationship as some of these sharp conflicts and deep vulnerabilities play themselves out.
It's possible to emotionally metabolize and find the joy in these bigger changes and challenges. We're in the unanswered question of whether we can go on spiritual quest together, do deep work that is encased and enveloped in love, accept the kinds of things that give us depth. It's gonna feel real.
Depending on who you are and where you are, you'll probably feel these themes in different ways or different areas of life entirely unique to who you are. For some, this will be about career but for others it will show up in physical or health concerns. For still others it may have to do with spirituality or family. It might be about bottom lines but it could just as easily speak to soul. There's always invitation here to see where these speak to you and to craft your ceremonies to the personally relevant.
Wealth: focus on the collaborative, the innovative, the creative and generative. Keep the possessive in check. Give to a charity or support a local artist or cause that speaks to your heart. Host potlucks rather than throwing dinner parties. Look at where you may need to liberate yourself financially or deal with your own assets, gifts, and resources differently. Get a living plant, a green thing that grows, and put it where you work or somewhere else associated with your money. Pay off an old debt if you want to taste free. Feel the shifting awareness around global resources, planetary health, oil and water; there are thousands of ways to get involved or show support or make a change. Again, notice how directly even a small contribution changes you.
Wild: get outside, go barefoot, look for opportunities to be in the forests, by the water, in the deep parts of nature that shock you stupid. Lay on the grass and look at the sky. Lay on your belly and watch the dirt creatures. Frequent farmers markets and make it a summer of local decadence.
Interiority: set aside some time for the deeply beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic this month. Buy or pull out a book of poetry or devotional reading and give it some real time; set it near your morning coffee or tea or bedside table or bathroom. Take yourself on a date to a museum or a park or just a pretty coffee shop on your own. Meditate on or in nature a few times in upcoming weeks. Ritually take a 30 minutes or an hour to appreciate your own physical beauty: be naked, indulge your skin, wear lingerie or your feel good clothes for no reason other than that it feels good; sleep on your best sheets and eat really soulful treats. The gluttonous kind. The decadent ones.
Fire: The first element in the light of consciousness, fire burns away physical impurities and is said in vedic ceremonies (yagyas) to be a bridge to the spiritual. It might be a good time to offer some burnt offerings. Do some soul journaling and offer the pages to the fire, sit by a campfire and just gaze, consider what it is you're ready to sacrifice.
Sit with it. Take your heart, your butt, and your feelings to the meditation cushion. Let it all happen there. Take up the space you occupy; no more and no less. This is daunting as so many of us have been conditioned to not take up space, to disappear, to keep everybody happy. And at the same time your feelings and cravings and opinions are not everybody else's problem, or even a mere glimpse of reality. Take up the space you occupy, no more and no less. Wild growth and appreciation follow.
USE YOUR SCENTS
Rose is the essential oil for Taurus, with her love of luxury and earthly delights. It's a pricey one, and valuation is one of the key lessons of Taurus. The earthy, resilient nature of Taurus is reflected in the fact that roses are intensely hardy, adaptable, and tenacious, often passing through generations of human keepers and thriving in soil that other plants would only suffer in.
3 parts rose
1 part patchouli - spiritulizes the merely fleshy or material, including sexuality, toward the sacred rather than the profane or the clingy. Make it about soul rather than ego.
2 parts vanilla encourages a sense of fulfillment and safety.
I've spent the last few weeks prepping a workshop for my friends at Sacred Space on the New Moon. I've spent weeks prepping a whole lot of different projects, looking sideways at old projects as suddenly they seem a little threadbare, just not quite right anymore. I've been feeling a little jostled, deeply unsettled. Old assumptions are being shook loose in uncomfortable ways and there's shit rattling around inside me. There is a lot of internal pressure. It isn't comfortable. Things, but mostly unimportant things, have been accelerating. Important things feel far away and neglected. I strongly recognized an old coping skill - the saying yes too quick, the over scheduling and overworking, the burying myself in under-compensated work because somehow work is where I find my self esteem. Rather than, say, really doing my own work or letting the closer to me relationships fuel my I'm-okay-and-I-am-worthy, fire. That coping skill seems to be infiltrating my days like an infestation. It's everywhere. I smack it in one place and then it starts laughing right behind my shoulder.
And then the great blizzard of middle April, a kind of grande finale to a pitiless winter that has basically sucked the marrow out of every one I know.
All the noise stopped. All the things were suddenly cancelled. My husband went out for an afternoon with his friends and they got stranded, safe but stranded, so the dog and I sat by the window and watched the snow drop, the wind blow, the street go empty. I stepped out into yard around midnight. The snow reached my knees. Where it had banked it reached midthigh. The snow and the sky reflected one another; it was bright as day. Bright as day but soft and wierd. Bluey. Like walking on the moon.
I was suddenly in a landscape that was solitary, with a stretch of days in a row that were hollow and bare.
I picked up my pen. I only managed to write one sentence. It's a good sentence. A hard wrought one. Some sentences take twenty years or so to get themselves on paper.
New Moons are generally mild, introspective, a time to welcome the new. But this one, this one has something like emergency to it. I melted the frost on the window with my palm. There is little in my kitchen but bread and apples. But all of this seems okay. It is alright. Spring is going to come, eventually. And when it does I will be ready for it. I've been making myself ready for it for so long. A few days of cloistered space and raging weather might be exactly what I most need to let the last inner rattling unhook itself from my lungs.
Rather than let all my prep work fall to nothing (which hey, would be okay. Generally that's what happens to prep work), I'm going to try to rephrase some of it here in a way you can use on your own. Take it and run.
Little prelude -
Aries: the spiritual warrior, the pioneer, the daredevil, the survivor
moon and sun power, combined. Add mercury finally pulling out of retrograde and going direct. As if that's not enough, Uranus, said to be a goddess of chaos making in the name of all things holy, mistress of truly not giving a fuck, Uranus is in conjunction with the new moon in Aries for the last time in the next 80 years. You basically have a pissed off tiger being set loose from a cage. Or, maybe, a blizzard descending on your aching for spring spirit. It's untamable, unequal distribution of forces, a mad shake down of what isn't stable enough to support truth and a siren cry for honesty as the only thing that will come out the other side. Go forth or go home.
the Influence of Aries is youthful boldness, the beginning stage of evolutionary growth. It is hot with life. It wants to rush headfirst into things regardless of difficulty, obstacles, or consequences. It tends to not quite understand, consequences. Until afterward. Headiness is arian, both in terms of stubbornness and intelligence. There is a fierce independent streak and this leads to innovation, bravery, and a general tendency toward self-taught wisdom.
Arian challenges: maintaining consistancy, impatience. If unchecked, impatience and self will boil over into anger and an aggressive tone to thoughts, words, and behaviors. Aries has a high emotional vulnerability, despite the bold. Mars, Aries' ruling planet and symbol of our strength, our courage to defend ourselves and our principals, the righteousness of rage and the energy that comes from truth, is debilitated by the moon. When Aries can turn innate brightness and intelligence, his courage and boldness to greater ends than the merely brash, higher purposes unfold. Learning the rewards of sacrifice and the power of discipline are key.
the lessons Aries teaches: creative intelligence and the soul's longing for self-awareness are being developed under Aries in the here. and. now. Exclamation point. The restless, wandering, alone in the hills tendency comes from not feeling emotionally at peace. Transforming that innate dis-ease through discipline, commitment, sacrifice, and compromise results in the development of self trust, authenticity, and right action. Aries is all about the difficulty and beauty of learning the truth of overcoming ego to fully express the soul.
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac. Youths know the deepest truths instinctively and passionately, without qualification. They know right and wrong, yes and no in a self referential, unfiltered way. They know it in a way olds tend to forget, given all of their baggage. Think of how children speak profundity. Think of how without bias they love. Think, too, of how impetuous and stubborn a toddler can be with his leap before looking desires. Think of how we all, regardless of who we are, sometimes tap into this nobility in the name of children. We'll do things for children - have the strength to do things - that we would not do for ourselves. There is no debate. There's no question. Three is unfathomable love. There is not a single moment's hesitation.
The challenge here is how to express the power, the rage, the love and the righteousness without giving over to the merely selfish. It's a question of finding your voice. But finding the true power of your voice is different than 'me! me! me!' all the time, isn't it?
Questions for reflection:
- What is something deeply firey, elementary true, primal and passionate for you?
- In what ways are you naive around this truth?
- How could commitment, discipline, and sacrifice bring the truth out of the infantile and into the fully realized? Get specific: commitment doesn't work well as abstraction. What are three practices you can apply on a daily or semi-regular basis, in a consistent way? What is something you can positively commit to in 15 minute time slots or once a week rituals?
- What has to be sacrificed? What does the idea of sacrifice feel like? How has reactivity around sacrifice or avoidance of sacrifice worked out, so far?
- Who could help? And why in god's name are you trying to do it on your own? Just like the idea of sacrifice, the idea of relationship tends to trigger things. What issues of self-esteem, control, of letting yourself be seen or not being center hit your gut most squarely?
- What is possible if you make a commitment and keep to it for six months? A year, or ten? Tell me that isn't revolutionary.
Use your scents -
aromatherapy works incredibly well on our emotional/mental layers because its a mainline to the limbic structures of your brain and nervous system. Aries is a sign of daring and adventure, but on more essential and primal layers it's a sign of survival. The recklessness and boldness comes from an emotional vulnerability and inner discomfort. The working through of this is a balancing of out-in-the-world action with inner reality: freedom.
Rosemary is ruled by the sun in Aries. It is pungent and purifying, but it's also a soother. It's good for when we've been pushed past or limits (or have pushed past our own limits. Ahem.)
Here are two combos you can use. Use these combos in a diffuser, or put them with a carrier oil or moisturizer.
In the world blend:
- 2 parts rosemary
- 1 part cedar stability, patience, integrity
- 1 park frankincense the consoler. Astringent, bitter, sweet. The bible says that Adam was given frankincense as a consolation for losing Eden. Debatable whether it worked, but the need for grief is part of Aries' teaching.
- maybe a hint of lime: cooling, fresh, bright.
In the heart blend:
- 1 part rosemary
- 2 drops juniper for wisdom
- 2 drops pine to help recognize that which endures in the heart from those we have loved
- 1 drop rose lends toward forgiveness of oneself and others.
Build an altar
If you already have an altar, refresh it in the next few days. Revisit and revise. New moons are always time for this, but Aries, being the first sign of the zodiac, invokes a particular urgency to revision. Things that you thought you wanted might not mean anything now.
What was sacred changes.
If you don't have an altar, make some kitchen magic. A little bowl tucked on the windowsill will do. Or hold space at the front of your yoga mat for something objectively special.
- again, Rosemary. Sage would also be a good one.
- symbols, objects, or images of lessons learned or bridges burned. Go ahead and invoke what hard lessons you've had and honor the people and dreams you've lost, but still carry. You still carry them. They still carry you.
- symbols, objects, or images of actions, adventures, experiences, leadership. What summits do you want to reach? This is the pioneering, cliff hugging, leap taking Ram we're talking about.
Take a long hot bath or shower in a ritual way. Ritually cleanse.
Fresh and shiny, spend some time with your altar, your journal, your art. Or have a heart to heart with a friend. Consider:
- turning point. Recent weeks and months have been conflicted and confusing and bumbling, but going through such things provokes if not outright radicalizes growth. We have better understanding, now. We have a greater awareness of our actions and their effects. We can see the need for forgiveness and mindfulness more clearly and call ourselves on our bullshit. And, we can see past the superficial or the bombardment out there in the world to what's underlying, necessary, essential. Don't go backward.
- Leadership, authenticity, taking the leap. Where are you typically a follower when you could be leading? Where do you need to break free from the crowd or old influences? How do you really find and trust your voice, your wisdom, your right to survival?
- advocacy. The truth is, it isn't about you. Look how there has been a steady push to go backwards: backwards on civil rights, racial justice, democratic ideals. The push for social change has been hinted at and repressed for hundreds of years without ever really coming to fruition. The repression is strong, now. But everywhere repressive, backwards forces press down, there is uprising and resistance. This is the time, seriously, to lay the seeds of deep evolutionary and social change. Those roots need to be stronger, go deeper, and spread to more places. Emergent strategy, to the full.
- write a list, some intentions or wishes, or a prayer.
- Then light a candle. Light the same candle, repeating your list or prayer, every day or night or week until the full moon (April 29). As the moon waxes, so does your attention. Lay those samskaras, deep. Do a thing once and it's interesting. Make it a ritual and it takes on a power of it's own. Some people say you shouldn't blow the candle out; you'll destroy the spark. Instead, snuff the candle.
Off the mat suggestions
- Challenge, push, adventure with your body. Play. Find things you've never done before. Use your movement practice to emphasize the pushing edges there, expands your boundaries elsewhere truth.
- Go on an adventure
- Take a chance. I'm not saying be high-risk. I'm saying you don't know if you don't try.
Fatigue is cumulative. Weariness grows. Think of the way a steady, slow drip of water will erode a mountain or a wall over time. Or the way you can handle one bad day, one set back, but after a series of setbacks your response is going to change. Eventually, you yourself change. There will be a proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. One thing more and you might just crack down the middle.
We are, for all our modern gadgetry, primitive beings. We have bodies that are prehistoric and digestive tracts that precede the agricultural revolution. We have minds that are older than the industrial revolution, and we're simply not intended to be able to process a constant barrage of information, stimulation, environmental strain.
Ama is the sludge, the build up, the slowly or not so slowly developing layer of grime that weakens our immunity, dulls our enthusiasm, and clouds our vitality. It's a toxic wet blanket thrown over our cell's ability to communicate, and without clear communication between our 70 odd trillion cells, things go a little haywire. We'll get sick more often and sickness will linger, longer. We'll be prone to allergies, including food sensitivities. Our hormones will back fire and our inflammatory response will alternately spit and roar, roar and spittle.
- the consequence of inadequately digested food or experience
- toxins which build up in the body and prevent our connecting with or ability to discern the body's underlying intelligence
- blockages - weather in our arteries, our joints, our our ability to experience love and happiness
- improperly digested food - any substance not utilizable by the body as food
- excess of the bi-products of metabolism (uric acid, components of bile, free radicals)
- the physical substance of maldigestion which blocks the body's subtle and not-subtle channels
As spring comes in, we're aware of changes in the environment around us. The skies get lighter, and higher. The earth thaws. Something deep in plants begins to move like a white milky pap toward the surface and then breaks through. Animals are born, the rains come, the heaviness of winter becomes the green wild pulse of spring.
These are profound shifts. They are a regeneration process. And the thing is, something similar is going on in your own physiology at this time. But we tend to be so disconnected from seasons and nature that we don't recognize the signs, wouldn't know what to do with them if we did, we live more by our newsfeed and our work demands than our body's inner wisdom.
The ancient vaidyas encouraged people to go through seasonal shifts with a purification process known as panchakarma. Every April, I go through this process myself and guide others through it online. It starts April 1 and is four weeks of ritually cleaning out your gunk. I mean the emotional, and the physical, and the old, and the relatively new. For $100, you'll get
- a PDF guidebook with a week by week plan to prepare your body to deeply release, to go through the release, and then to rejuvenate.
- daily reflections as a part of that guide
- a weekly 'how to' video, as well as supplementary videos that are all optional (how to make ghee and kitchari, a few asana videos, etc)
- this year I'm including a series of how-to-meditate videos that will give you a technique for effortless meditation, different than watching the breath or mindfulness. Meditation is purification.
Stress and strain and less than optimal digestion are part of the world we live in. But there are things we can do to recover, rejuvenate, regenerate. You can feel spring, as a thing that is happening inside of you.
Last night I got a text from a friend. The Yoga Center of Minneapolis closed it's doors last night. No one knew it was going to happen except the few key players involved. I know how bad this can hurt. I know how many people are affected. This morning the word has spread and more and more people are expressing sadness, hurt, and confusion.
There is grief there. Grief is a complicated thing, both a process and not a process at all. It lasts. And it changes.
From a humble place, I want to make myself available to anyone who needs to talk. From a more humble place still, I will open my intensives/teacher training this summer to anyone who can no longer complete their work with The Yoga Center.
It doesn't fix everything, but it is something. It may not be the right fit for you. But we can have a conversation and figure it out. "Training" and "yoga teacher" and "Yoga Alliance" are all confusing topics right now. We'll address every one of them.
It’s mid January. The dawns are so deep they break to ink blue. Stars are sharp. To say nothing whatsoever of the cold.
Only that it’s a hard kind of season. It’s a difficult time of year.
Now that 97% of the human population has trashed, dismissed, or diminished their New Year’s Resolutions, I want to talk about them.
To be fair, I’m not a person who makes resolutions. I never have been. In the first 29 years of my life, before-the-yoga, I fully identified as a fuck up. I wouldn’t to commit to a damned thing. I wouldn’t commit because I knew I’d fail.
I no longer think of myself as such a damaged piece of work. But I still don’t make resolutions. My reasoning is different, though; I don’t make resolutions now because I know that changes happen – beautiful, devastating changes – in spite of me. Change is an experience of grace.
Sankalpa – the Sanskrit word for intention – means the law that arises from the heart. It means the rule you follow above all other rules. And here’s where I think we misunderstand: intention doesn’t come from the goal setting and thinking part of us; it rises up out of the flesh like a baby. Or a disease. To try to think or plan or strategize our way into the new year is to misunderstand both human beings and change. The heart is going to do what the heart needs to do.
Being human is what traditional yoga studied. In depth. From multiple angles. Down through the layers and into the shadows. Movement studies. Mind studies. One of the key things the sages came to understand is the inborn capacity for human beings to overcome, to heal, and to grow. Lay the ground, plant the seeds, cultivate the space, and the human spirit soars. Change is what human beings, do.
But laying the ground is decidedly different than a bucket list. It’s related to healing, not goal setting.
There is a tremendous cultural pull, born in the holidays and proved in the longest nights of the year, that resurrects and reflects who we’ve been in our lives. The pull underscores aging. It’s laced with familial roles – how sweet and sustaining they are, as well as how fraught with contradiction. It’s sourced in finances, commercialism, and gender roles while being boxed by cultural traditions. It trades in shame, hits our weak spots, and plays on self-esteem. To top it all off, end of the year rituals are reminiscent of religious rites; even if we’re not religious, we want to be spiritual. We’re drawn to things that smell like candles in the dark, salvation, and promises. The resurrecting and reflecting pull is so strong we start vowing. We want a clean break. Never again, we say. Or this year I promise. From this point forth and so on. Sometimes it appears more mild: it’s true I’d be happier if I finally lost this weight, maybe. Or, now that I’m middle aged, I really should start exercising. I don’t know that these are actually mild. They’re rather passive aggressive.
Resolution and change are not the same thing. They aren’t even related to each other.
The one is sourced by ego, master of phrasing self-hate as self-improvement and avoidance as self care. Resolution implies a problem needing to be fixed. But the problem here is the self. We so often make problems of ourselves. We try to change ourselves to fit in or get enough likes, without realizing that’s an endless hunger. We may stoke our ego enough for today, but tomorrow we’ll have to do the same thing. And the next day. And the next. The needing will never end. There is no ‘goal’; there’s only a hamster wheel. Or one of the minor circles of hell. Resolutions feed either our ego or our insecurities.
Our ego and our insecurities turn out to be inseparable.
The other, change, is sourced elsewhere. By god, maybe. The really real. By the ordinariness of biological, historical, genetic and teeming life. And let’s face it: ordinary life, in the power of the galaxy, the wonder of a seed, the outright miracle of human birth and the delicacy of minerals in the soil, is wonderous. I could go on and on. The ordinary life of snowflakes and sixty five million refugees, salt in the blood, the wild bones of children and the fact of guns in America; I mean racial wounds, feminine persistence, immigrant dreams and native wisdom. I mean hope and sadness, hope and guts, hope and the medicinal poetry of ancestors.
There is so much more to life than our ideas about ourselves.
We need rituals, after so much talk of resolutions. Rituals dabble in the taboo and make it sacred. Ritual approaches the ordinary with a sense of humility and revelation.
Ritual leans in; change and healing follow. Then, and only then, do items on lists start to check themselves off. They fall off surprisingly and without effort, a kind of domino effect. What was vague becomes clear. What was ignorance becomes wisdom. Like photography, resolution has to do with clarity. Resolution is a side effect of healing, not the means.
As I write this I’m watching the sun rise, flamingo pink and throat red. Everything but the light is freeze blue, hard white. The juxtaposition is sharp. By the time the light reaches a diagonal, it will be molten gold, a lava on window panes, hot honey on houses. A siren wails and an ambulance rushes to the hospital. I’m working on my own love, my own marriage. One of Martin Luther King’s books lays spread-eagled next to the coffee cup.
I can’t ignore reality. Nor can I deny beauty. Nor can I handle even one of the greater questions of our time. In the face of all that, I need something to hold me.
I need something to hold me because I am not strong.
Ritual makes an offering of the self rather than an imposition of the will. Rituals invoke our heart with all its vulnerabilities. Vulnerability has power. Ritual notices the beauty of deep winter even as it shivers in the face of it. Rites acknowledge need, accept uncertainty, appreciate human effort and sing earthy wisdom. Ritual sacralizes the taboo, the profane, the frustrating, the quotidian; and what else could we do with such things?
What else could we possibly do?
Ritual is the mysterious work of hope and healing. Their mutuality. Their human and ordinary realness.
But healing looks so very different than a yearly pep talk or ultimatum. Change often takes years to unfold. Decades. Generations. Sometimes this is so hard. It is so tiring. How can we take on such tremendous problems without losing hope?
Like many of the deeper questions, this one has two apparently contradictory answers. It’s paradox.
On the one hand, we only have the courage and capacity to do such things when we remember that they are bigger than us. They are generational, historical, and communal. We have to do our part. It’s important that we realize we are part of a movement. It’s possible to see with the eyes of the not yet born. Our work has been handed down directly from the ancestors. Then the difficulty of the present doesn’t matter. Our frustration isn’t the whole of the story. When we do this, we are uniquely able to notice the beauty of things without their beauty being tarnished by the shitty context in which they happen.
And on the other hand, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to learn the lessons implicit in our own lives. When we do this, when we explore personal healing, we find a beauty and a grace quality to life that we’d never suspected before. We find parts of ourselves we never knew existed. Parts of our self we couldn’t get rid of become our standing ground. If we don’t leverage our own life lessons, we re-iterate them.
If we don’t have both levels of healing we suffer. If we only think about ourselves, we eventually become self destructive. We’ll roil in diet mentality. We’ll self-improve ourselves to death. We’ll never have enough qualifications, or degrees, or respect.
But if we only ever look at the big issues, we lose ourselves. We’ll get depressed. We’ll burn out. Everything will be heavy. No one will want to be around us because we’re self righteous and annoying. And we’ll develop conflict and resentment because we can’t claim the problems of the world as our own personal destiny. They don’t belong to us. They aren’t ours.
Ritual is the only thing I know that draws these polarities together. A yogic truth, if it is one, suffuses through all the layers of reality. It has to be true at the subtle level, as well as the most scientific. It has to be both a universal truth, which can anchor us; and it has to be an intimate - almost embarrassing- personal experience, which floats us.
Ritual lays the spirit on the altar, using whatever altar it can find. Dust motes in a column of sunlight, say. Or clumps of black grasses, shrouded in snow. Ritual is seeing breath crystallized in bluey light and ego decrystallized into something not yet finished, nowhere near done. To watch the ego decrystallize is hard, and such a relief.
Ritual redeems us like a coupon.
Love, it says, is possible. Even though we doubt. Doubt, it says, is workable, because we still love.
Ritual heals us. Which is what we’ve needed year after year. It’s what we all, need. It’s time for us as a society to focus on healing. There’s no task of greater importance and no undertaking that could be more profound.
Now is the time for us to finally heal the painful legacy of racism, the lineage of patriarchy, the division between the wealthy and the poor. Now is the time to seriously take on the task of healing the environment. It’s time for us to heal a broken educational system. It’s time to heal an antiquated disease care model that poses as a health care system. We have to address the ill health and depression that affects fifty percent of the world’s population. We have to address the cost and the suffering laid on families and see the stress that comes of not getting essential things right.
I suppose what I’m suggesting amounts to a revolution. I mean social justice. I mean public wealth. I mean human rights and acknowledging the staggering beauty and urgent role of science before our policies do irreparable harm.
The gyst of such a revolution would be individuals healing themselves and the people they come in contact with. It will spread until our halls of power are brown and feminine. Our governors won’t descend from fraternities but rise from immigrant families and we’ll support them. This revolution will enrich our economy and restore wounded dignity and we’ll celebrate it. We can promote a revolution based on healing instead of the band-aid of suppressing. We can call shame culture and bullying culture out as being the same culture. This healing will look for wholeness in our fragmented society and this shift will benefit everyone, every last one, in society.
Like any revolution this won’t come from government. It will come from individuals. It will come from us.
The need is clear. The way is clear. Your soul longs for it and the world is so ready for it.
I’m not asking for utopia. I’m speaking directly to the way things are. Things don’t have to be this way.
There is an emptiness to mid January. It stands in all the doorways. It’s rubbed people’s cheeks to raw. We’re depleted but expected to go on. Lean in to ritual as both balm and sugar. It’s a fire and it’s a song. It’s important, and it’s something we already know how to do. Sankalpa is like that. It’s proof that we already and always have cared. We fill emptiness with love.
Post holiday crash and burn is upon us. We're all a little tired, a little short tempered, a little deflated. The cultural pull of the holiday season is strong, and we tend to lose ourselves a little bit. For weeks. To then jump into January is either a slap in the face or a groan of loathing.
Good news: there are things you can do. There are little things you can do to feel not so crappy, physically. Not so blitzed, calendar wise. And not so emotionally icky.
Icky. A lot of us are just feeling pretty icky.
So I made three little workshops. Have at em. Grab a pen.
2 and 3 are on patreon.com/karinlynncarlson
The news is relentless. There is a sick taste in my mouth. I oscillate between avoiding news and bingeing on it. I oscillate between desperate, trembling activity and absolute apathy. I forget myself: I teach I protest I aunt I wive I write. And the self interrupts, selfish: I whine I dither I am needy lonely ugly and afraid. I want comfort. I want answers. I want change. And I want it all to just fucking calm down. I want some sweetness in my life, the celebrations, time with the folk I love, time to do something other than crisis management and grief. I dearly want to sit and watch as the sugar maple changes her clothes, gussies up, stuns, and lets go.
It doesn't stop. The news is relentless. Now this. Now that. Heartbreak. Anger. Fear.
There are days I desperately need my practice, and it feels desperate; starving, needy, heady, grabby, longing. Then there are days practice seems utterly irrelevant, selfish, not good enough, unimportant, a waste of time. On those days, everything in my body recoils from sitting. Nothing in me wants to move. Awareness is just too goddamned uncomfortable. Nothing can tear me away from the twitter feed, the images, the debate, the body counts. Or: nothing seems so urgent as uninterrupted time with my niece, far from news, away from danger.
In recent days I've wanted the solace of my teacher. But he died a few months ago. I could go back to his published words or his voice in a podcast. But I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to his voice yet. It doesn't feel good. I can't. So there is silence.
I wanted the release of a practice and a community so I went to a class. But I kid you not the teacher said 'feel the burn, it's goooood' and 'yoga bliss' and I wanted, a little bit, to sit bolt upright and stare at her in outrage. I quietly left. I wept in the bathroom. It was an ugly, heaving, snotty cry. Etheric music and wispy incense drifted around my head but I cried and I cried.
In the early stages of my practice, the first few years, it was all about that burning. It felt, good. I practiced, obsessively. Every single day there was some new thing learned. Every time I practiced was a revelation. It was like learning a new language, an immersion. I immersed. The words of this language were freedom, liberation, an end to suffering. It rang bells inside me. It lit fires. It seemed true.
It isn't like that these days. The world has shifted. Those very words - freedom, liberation, an end to suffering - ring discordant.
There are times this feels like the yoga isn't working any longer, or maybe it was always a hoax. The very definition of spiritual by-pass and self-indulgence, delusion, empty promises. I've heard a lot of people say very similar things: It spoke to me, but then in the light of things, what it said wasn't true.
Another teacher of mine says: these practices have never been more important. People need a yoga practice now, more than ever.
As a teacher, I've been banging drums for years. Look at the world. Look at the world. Look. But recently I've been torn. Part of me needs to emphasize yoga as social justice. Another realizes my teaching needs to sooth. It is my job to provide the necessary intervention of care. This latter feels more urgent: come here, rest. Pause. Re-source. We need to take care of ourselves, each other, our loved ones and our students.
And, we need to change the the world. Children are watching. People are dying. The maple tree rattles in the early morning dark.
Yoga isn't enough. It isn't an answer to atrocity any more than prayer is. Neither are an appropriate response. Prayer is not an answer to a broken democracy cracking in racial violence and underlying fear. Prayer is not an appropriate response to flood, storm, thousands of displaced and hungry and needing help lives. Prayer is not an appropriate response to domestic terrorism. And releasing our own tension, feeling our feelings, gleaning insight is not enough. Children are watching. People are dying. Do I repeat myself? Or am I making my point?
This isn't anywhere near, over. More people are going to die. Because hospitals don't have power and there isn't food or clean water. Because police brutality and gun violence. Because we haven't really answered the questions of race and sex and gender or democracy, of civil rights, of justice.
Which is not the same as saying either yoga or prayer - or whatever mental health and spiritual tools you've got - is irrelevant. They are, relevant. They are relevant as tools. They are tools for our own sanity. They help us quell anxiety, reactivity, splitting away from our body and our feelings. They resource our autonomy, our responsibility, our inborn capacity to choose and a renewed determination to choose well. These practices light fire, tend fire, inspire hope. These practices empower the self, little as she is in the great scheme of things.
Little as she is in the great scheme of things, her empowerment is vital.
I swear, the maple this time of year seems less a tree and more a poem. I can feel the red drawing up, in my arms.
This is where paradox, the nature of two things being true at one and the same time, comes to a head: I know of nothing, other than my prayerful practice of yoga, that both empowers the pray-er and acknowledges the reality of suffering.
I call this, hope. It isn't what we'd expected and it is not, most definitely not, the way we want it to be. Hope is surrender, and commitment. Not one or the other: both.
In the beginning, yoga was all about me. It had to be.
It isn't about me anymore. It can't be.
My students have asked, in the last year, over and over and over again: what, now? How do we not burn out? How can we possibly keep feeling into pain, and suffering, and injustice, when it just keeps coming? The question is on point. How do we find the energy to take up a problem that is bigger than us? How do we not lose heart in the face of such toxic realities, the unanswered questions, the big things like racism and immigration and climate change?
I've said: I have to remember these things are bigger than I am. If I can believe that history will judge these moments, then it doesn't matter so much that I am tired. If I realize that future generations might take up these very issues with more grace and possibility than we do, that my frailty is irrelevant. That these questions are old, they are ancient, they are chronic like pain, simply doesn't matter if I realize there is some small thing I can do. It doesn't solve the world's pain. But I sleep better. I recover, sanity. If I believe in beauty, and justice, and the preciousness of children, than my fear isn't terribly important.
Sometimes, I have to step back and let others bang the drums. Sometimes, I listen for my teacher's voice, even when it isn't there. Sometimes, I speak and realize I sound like him; this gives me goosebumps. Sometimes you are crabby tired and overwrought but then a child asks for a snack; of course you make it. Sometimes, you'll hate yoga but then some one asks for help; you'll say yes. No one of these things is the answer, and no one of these things is not part of the answer.
It's okay to be angry, to grieve, to burn out if you realize it isn't about you and you're not alone. The relative smallness of actions becomes tolerable.
Pray as hard as you can, as often as you need, with whatever tools you've got.
Pray, so that you can get back to work. The news is relentless, and that's okay; that means it isn't over. Yoga is social justice. Come, and rest. It does something like red does to maple trees. But it happens inside your own chest.
Driving home yesterday, I was passed on the highway by an enormous white pickup truck. It was raining. The sky was mottled: now fuzzy, now slick. Hitched to the truck's tail were both an American and a Confederate flag. The truck was covered in Trump propaganda: 'the silent majority has spoken', 'God Bless Trump', and 'Trump 2020'. He splattered my small car in a wash of kicked up rain. I felt my whole body recoil. This was Sunday morning. On Friday night, a Neo-Nazi rally had gathered in Charlottesville Virginia. With three dead and torches burning around a black church, it spilled over into Saturday. By Sunday, the president of the United States had finally been pressed for a statement. He prevaricated. Far from Charlottesville and alone in the rain, I wondered when this guy had gotten his truck done up. Was it post election? Was it more recent than that? Was he out joyriding and fear mongering precisely because of the events in Virginia? Where was he going?
And where had he come from?
This is part of the fear, isn't it? The knowing there is danger in our midst? We've known racism is endemic and systemic (different things, synergistic to each other); but for it to be so bold as to gather in public and shout Nazi slogans, for it to be endorsed by the silence of the White House, is terrible. It's terrifying. As in: terrorism. And yet, the seconds keep ticking by, unaffected and unnoticed as drops of rain. Days, pass.
As soon as the protest or rally or whatever the hell it was was deemed illegal in Charlottesville, it was effectively shut down. This took less than 20 minutes. However, I don't know that it was effectively 'shut down' so much as the Nazis disappeared. No one knows where they went. Through the veins of undercurrent, fringe internet chat rooms, and outlier fraternal gatherings, these people are organized.
Meanwhile they are neither so fringe nor outier as our sense of decency wants to believe. They are not quiet about their intentions. And however and whoever they are as 'organized' is perhaps less concerning - since they are really ego maniacal idiots who could be identified and held accountable - than are their counterparts outside and inside.
Outside: individuals who are alone are emboldened to act; the erroneous rhetoric of white supremacy and 'reverse racism' start to bleed all over the media, family gatherings, school playgrounds; events in Charlottesville are both horrifying as an incident and indicative of a swelling, global, atmospheric shift. The environment has changed. It tilted. Distortion seems to warp pubic spaces. It is toxic. It only takes one person, in a split second, to cause enormous and irreparable harm. We live in an environment in which guns, slurs, and violence are everyday threats. We are waiting for the unspeakable to happen. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the people at the rally are supported by the 52% of white women who voted for Trump seven months ago, anyone who is swayed by the rhetoric of 'shaking things up', everyone who is willing to tolerate sexual assault, bullyism, and vitrolic rascism in exchange for a mythic 'great America'.
And above: the people who act on these dangerous premises are backed by the executive branch of government. Yes, by Donald Trump. He's the front man. He's provocative. But the ideology and power for this state of affairs lies in the hands, the heads and the history of the people behind him. To say that white supremacy and violence are not endorsed by the president of the United States is to deny that office's entire platform. This is exactly what Trump asked for - and promised - throughout his campaign. This is explicitly the polemics espoused by Steve Bannon before, during, and after the election. Social recusal of the White House comes both from the blurring of reality that is the linchpin of totalitaritanism and abusive relating - we're dealing with the absurd here- and an earnesty of heart that does not want to believe racism could exist in such a sacred space, in the heart of government, where it matters most. Not at this point in history.
History is suddenly so present.
The white pickup was not the only one I saw in my forty five minute drive down the interstate. There were three others. None so provocative as the first, but all of them disturbing. When the first passed me, I felt rage. I wanted to scream. I wanted to deface that truck. I wanted a baseball bat and a can of spray paint. I visualized getting close enough to spit, or at least flip the guy my middle finger. But I realized: I could, maybe, possibly, get away with that ( being a middle aged white woman. And the fair enough assumption that the driver is more swagger than action), but I might be hurt if I tried. It is my privilege - and a personal dose of fuck you bawdiness - that would allow me to even dare.
After the fourth truck I pulled off the freeway. The rain alternately stopped and began again. It began so subtly you wouldn't notice. It was not raining and then you'd realize it was, and had been. The long low sloping hills and fields and lakes were heavy with a green spiderweb of mist. I was lulled by the somnulant metronome of windsheild wipers.
But it kept going, this confusing ride home. All over the place, out in the countryside, people had decided to put out American flags. I would just start to daydream and think of other things when I'd come around a bend and there would be another flag, rising up out a barrel of geraniums or lilting over a mailbox.
I realized I had no idea what the flags meant.
The symbol has been used and misused and bandied about so egregiously that you can't know what people mean by them. Were these flags a stand in for a swastika? Or were they an image of resistance? It's terrifying to realize they mean both. The Johnson's are proclaiming one thing while their neighbors the Swanson's are endorsing the other. The empty mailboxes and soggy fields in between become just as mysterious.
Symbols are important. They are the definition of human meaning. By symbolism, fabric and metal and geometric shapes become more than they are in themselves. They are dense and alive, laden, portent with history. Symbols evoke god, justice, and identity. They refer to blood. Both the most senseless of pastimes - like sports or commercial branding - and the most bitter aspects of history can be tripped by a symbol, instantaneously. The response is visceral, organic. It's stronger than words and faster than logic. Start fucking around with symbolism and you're messing with the sacred and the profane. Use an image, and you touch people's hearts. I mean people's souls. This is precisely why oppression works: burn an effigy and you threaten millions of lives. You can make a joke or excuse a thing as colloquialism, but you directly invoke slavery, condone rape, whisper that you and a whole culture behind you would be okay with your death, deportation, or lynching.
Language is nothing but symbolism.
So long as a certain language is established, the vast majority of the population doesn't even have to participate: their silence is enough.
So long as we have a president who deals in silence and false equivalencies, using language intelligently is a profoundly political act.
Like so: Neo-Nazis are responsible for events in Charlottesville, including both terrorism and murder. The president of the United States is on their side. See? This is both true, and it is treason.
I stopped to visit my mother and father. I told them about the flags. My father shook his head. He said he wished there could be a reclamation of the flag. A movement to take up the ideals it once stood for. A strong and colorful affirmation of it's meaning for the future.
Reclamation and revision are part of symbology. There is a long, long history of reclaiming the curves of the body, and hair, and sex, The righteousness of anger and the food on our tables has had to be recovered. The voice has to be reclaimed. Social justice, by definition, reclaims space. Reclamation is a vital thread to feminism, black pride, and indigenous rights. Interestingly, revision often cuts past the objective to the vulnerable underside of the symbol: justice goes under the abstraction of geometry or slur directly to the flesh, to buried bones and politicized wombs. This is why it matters, why it hurts: symbols mark identity. This, again, is exactly why oppression is possible - by a magical process of abstraction, bodies are made invisible, history and civil liberties are denied, threats to children and communities are made clear. To un-abstract them is revolutionary. Social justice movements reclaim symbols precisely because symbols reveal the body's primacy. I mean the desperate urgency of one's right to exist.
I burned a flag at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen. I don't remember exactly when, other than junior high. I do recall that we had to first buy a flag, my buddy and I, at the local hardware store. Made of synthetics, it burned poorly. It melted and dripped, burning my hand. We did the thing covertly, with hot whispers and a sense of adolescent blasphemous thrill.
You might ask what the hell I was doing. I don't, and didn't, know. I am not, in telling the story, saying I did right or saying it was okay. I was hitting puberty. When I say that I mean more than hormonal fury and testing of boundaries; I was coming to realize that my body was female, and by it's female nature it was as much an object and a target as it ever was subjective. This wasn't hypothetical. Even if it were, it would have been harmful. I was also reading Howard Zinn for the first time. I was in love with both Walt Whitman and J.D. Salinger. I read something called American Holocaust, the cover of which I remember vividly though I couldn't tell you today who the author was. In that book, I learned the forests and lakes I loved were haunted and stolen. And I was hanging out with a kid named Matthew Brown, who was Indian, and this somehow made me realize that history wasn't ghosted so much as it was denied. Indians didn't disappear any more than I did.
The original act of resistance is knowing: reality is not the same as the dominant narrative; the dominant narrative itself is woven of lies.
I never burned another flag, but my resistance was early born and for decades turned in on itself. It was much later that I crawled out of the ugly roiling mess of self-hatred, self-effacement, complacency and alcoholism. It took me a very long time to say things like 'my body' without simpering. My body. Mine.
A few weeks ago I saw an Audre Lorde quote pop up on my social media feed. It's a popular one; a recurring meme in a world endlessly trying to find authenticity (sic). The quote reads: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." As I say, the quote is popular; but the final phrase is usually hacked off. It's rote to speak of self care only as self preservation. This is comforting, enough. And it's benal. That is, we bandy about this idea of self-care or equally ubiquitous ideals of love trumping hate, all being one, yadda yadda. But we are rarely brave enough to follow these things to their logical end. We so often espouse ideals without being able to embody them. Ultimate, absolute truths displace relative truth, current truth, this moment in time truth. It's one thing to say all are created equal; but walking down a street as a black person is not the same as walking the same street as a white male. Even if people do know who Audre Lorde is, they couldn't recite her. They couldn't say for sure whether she is alive or dead. I'm not suggesting we all need to bulk up on our poetry; I'm suggesting our understanding of ideals and philosophies and history, the greatest and most beautiful things, is too often superficial. I don't think we're doing it on purpose. After all, understanding takes work. As I say: honesty is threatening.
But what of this: "caring for myself is an act of political warfare"?
Being objectified is painful. I do mean physically, but I really mean psychologically. Being made into an object is a violation of one's innermost reality and the superficial and forceful imposition of some other 'reality'. Healing from such a deep psychological wound has to involve a realization, somewhere along the line, that the 'ism' and the pain were not personal, even though they took place on your body. You realize your problems are not yours - in cause or in consequence. They are a part and function of a social wrong. Therefore: to affirm yourself is political. To speak the truth is political.
In the wide narrative of racism in America and the narrower one of events in Charlottesville, this shows up: white people believe that calling things by their name is somehow a personal threat. Trump pretty much said so in his first- belated and reluctant- public statement: by blaming 'all sides' he simultaneously portrayed the resistance as threatening, and dismissed the legitimacy of resistance. To say nothing of excusing the racism. You hear the undercurrent, the shadow, in the wider dialogue of white supremacy: renouncing privilege feels like losing something. The removal of confederate memorials is 'erasing history'. Any conversation about race or gender is harking on old resentments. The left and the media are lying. Success is getting what you want, generally out of somebody else's pocket. This is the natural order of things. Strength is force. The mythos of white supremacy depends on a false narrative in which 'white male' is or at some time was a majority, and greatness is an outcome of dominance.
But America is and has always been indigenous, black, female. Brute strength has never been our greatness, but our shame.
Calls for letting symbols stand and moving on, or that we 'remember, never forget', are distortions of history rather than commemoration of it: 'moving on' suggests that white supremacy is a thing of the past; 'remembrance' is a distortion of when and why Confederate memorials were erected in the first place. Confederate memorials are the works of Jim Crow America, not honor of the dead. This is not 'like' historic preservation of Auschwitz. The intent of maintaining Auschwitz is to honor and revisit tremendous grief; to keep woke to the danger of acquiescence and silence; to elicit not pride but mourning. The intent of confederate memorials is not mourning, but pride. Threatening, inciting, pride.
Later that evening, my husband and I went to a candlelight vigil at Bde Maka Ska lake. Most people around here call it Lake Calhoun. The place was purposely chosen as a local example of placemaking, unmasking the inherent racism of our landmarks and civic structures. Before it was Lake Calhoun, it was Bde Maka Ska. Bde Maka Ska is Dakota for White Earth Lake. In 1817, the United States Secretary of War John C. Calhoun sent the army to survey the area. He'd previously authorized the construction of Fort Snelling. The lake has gone by the name of Calhoun ever since. Reactions to calling the lake by it's name, per the local paper: this is pointless; it will always be Calhoun to me; so tired of this PC bullshit, where does it end; Minnesota is the land of common sense, if Lake Calhoun offends you, leave. No one will miss you; so very, very tired of the PC police and endless looking for things that might offend them or melt their snowflake; everyone will still call it Calhoun so cute but no cigar.
See: every single one of the comments feels burdened or imposed upon, threatened. Change is dismissed as nonsense, childishness. The problem with these reactions is not their ignorance of history, but their denial of the present. The White Earth Tribe still exists. The Dakota still exist. We are not talking about relics and archaeology; we are talking about children. The great failure of the American Dream is believing that history is over. The civil rights era ended.
It was still raining. People gathered under a mass of umbrellas. One woman carried an American flag. I was touched. It took a long time, and much work, but I have come to be deeply proud of being an American. I love the magnanimity and the hope of it's oldest ideals. I love the noisy, dynamic, vibrant reality of who and what the United States of America actually is. The flag hung limp in the rain. Two women next to us whispered the same questions I'd had earlier; why is it the sight of the flag is riddled with complicated emotional and physical reactions? What does the American flag, mean?
It seems to me this confusion is related to another: how do we engage with a problem that seems so intractable? How do we make sense in a world that seems so depressing?
There was a moment when sudden noise - loud noise, sudden - caused the speaker on the podium to stop and the whole of the crowd to turn. It was a moment of fear. There had been talk; white pickup trucks might show up. In that moment I thought: the violence isn't done, yet. I thought: this isn't over. But the noise was only a party bus, circling the lake. The speaker on the podium half grinned, and then he continued.
This isn't, over.
It may be- and this might be treason again, but I'm over that - that we need a new flag. Something that references not only colonies and states, but the Mexican and the Indigenous. We need something that acknowledges both slavery and Jim Crow. Something that celebrates immigrants. This rag would have traces of blood in it and threads of deep song. I think it would be woven of hair. This flag would ripple like a dancing body and it would sing in the wind. It would sing. It would sing not because the race issue went away but because the race issue endured. It will dance not because the civil rights era failed, or reconstruction did, or the ideals of America are and have always been hypocritical; this flag will fly because the ideals of America still have a chance of coming to life.
If the America of the future is not black, not native, not hijab wearing and spanish speaking, not female, than there is no hope. America will kill itself. We are lost. Humanity is lost.
At the vigil, we sang. People lit candles in the rain. Others carried LED lanterns. A tall, white man standing in front of me wept. I wept. The woman with the flag switched her grip. The flag leaned left, then right. I kept looking at her out of the corner of my eye. Lots of people talked to her. I took comfort in this. I thought of that stance, holding something aloft in the rain. I though of beacons, and beckoning. I thought of the Statue of Liberty and her relationship to abolition; she wears broken shackles. It seems that the great, the terrible sadness of this moment is not just sadness, it's also the only hope we've got. It's an indication that we care. Care, as Audre Lorde taught me, is not merely preservation.
We can only make sense of this sad and ugly world by understanding and believing that the race issue endures, and that is it's greatest and only hope. It is black communities that will bring us out of moral turpitude; it is Somali women and indigenous women who will ignite our government; it is children who will judge what we do as history.
Michael Stone died yesterday. He was one of my most important teachers. He was my friend. Death is so incomprehensible. It's unfathomable, and at the same time everything goes on like before. When someone we care for dies, our lives are broken and will never quite be the same. And, people are dying all the time.
I don't know anyone other than Michael who could make these things feel true and beautiful at one and the same time. He himself was so beautiful. As I numbed myself with internet feel-goods in the last few days I came across a documentary of a Syrian ballet dancer. When the war came, he said, we all lost someone. The terror went into our hearts. I thought of Michael. He talked of our crooked world as important, and as personal. He never lost the deep suffering of the world to the merely political, economic, or historical. They remained - or became - human. And we were rendered more humane. Michael insisted we believe in ourselves.
A friend sent me condolences on social media: "I'm sorry you lost a believed teacher", she said. Auto-correct is so Fruedian. I knew she meant beloved, but I liked the mistake. I believed Michael. I suppose that's what makes a teacher great. They don't trade in bullshit. They speak to those parts of ourselves that need to believe, that ache for it.
This morning's class was lovely, heartful. My voice cracked at the ending chant; others took up the chant for me. I thought: well, isn't that just the point. But it wasn't thought, it was felt, it was grateful and besmitten and so tired. I came home, slept, woke and couldn't do anything but steady, constant, pointless things. It was like cleaning but wasn't. It was like unearthing closets but was more a dishevelment of them. It was sort of like gardening, for a few hours, except I'm not a gardener and it was just an attack on weeds and vines and creeping into the yard trees. I stood up with dirt up to my elbows and sweat down my spine. It was baking, sweeping, dog bathing frenzy. It was in and out of the writing. It was like reading twelve books at once, a sentence from this, a phrase from that. I dug out old journals from retreats and trainings with Michael. I read through my own years. I dug though the texts he's guided me through, others he pointed me toward, the mass of sutra and Sanskrit that became my own work, largely because he encouraged it. I reframed, tore out, rephrased. I scattered them, threw them away, brushed off a few scant pieces that roughly hold together. I put them on the wall. Just now, I cried for the first time. It was short. It was rubbed away quick. And then I came back up here to this pacing. As my teacher leaves the world, I am mad with a need to write. Poems, psalms, explanations, apologies. Questions. Emotions. Salt and adrenaline. There is urgency.
A post shared by Karin L Carlson (@coalfury) on Jul 16, 2017 at 7:03pm PDT
I call him 'my teacher', but he wasn't mine. His family has a wholly different claim to his last hours and his body than I do. That privacy is sacred. I cannot imagine the pain and tenderness they feel. I can't do anything but offer them my love. Thousands of people across the world are gathering this evening. I am awed: one life can do so much. And I am sad: now that he is gone, there is so much that won't be done. So much needs to be done.
I haven't seen Michael in over a year. There were times he was teaching nearby but I always had other commitments. He does an annual retreat to France: I'd always wanted to go. But I put it off. I assumed I'd go some other time.
Last week in the techniques session I mentioned time as one of the four parts of learning. We're quite neurotic about it. We don't take time to say I love you. Or, we say it but don't feel what it is we're saying. We act as though there will be a better time to meet our neighbors or try in some way to make a difference in our community. We put off the important and beautiful things while our lives are mostly routine and spent in the earning of a living. We're busy. We're so tired. We whine about not having time but we don't take the time we have. People often ask me, as a teacher, how to find the courage and the energy to take on the really big problems. Why is it we know what it is we need, but can't do it? How do we possibly take on the problems of race, violence, and fanaticism without losing heart? How do we finally find the courage to do the great and beautiful things we really want to do?
I think we need to do more great and beautiful things. Life is so hard. It needs great beauty.
I think the only answer is the jnana or wisdom of time. When we really feel the passing nature of things and the uniqueness of people, we're moved. I don't mean intellectually; it isn't an idea. And I don't mean mere sentimentality, either. I mean we're rocked to our soul. An urgency is born. Clarity and courage come that we didn't know and couldn't have known otherwise. We don't have to be good enough or ready enough or prepared. We don't need answers. We realize there are many answers, and no one answer is perfect. We don't have to be anything at all because the urgency itself carries us and we are left changed. I think we misunderstand the nature of change. We spend so much time thinking we have to orchestrate it or fearing the pain of it, disbelieving it's actually possible. But it isn't something we do. Change is something we allow to happen to us, something we finally allow in. This isn't easy.
When I heard Michael was dying, I understood something for the first time. I've known dozens of very good teachers. Some opened doors for me along the way. Others helped me understand an aspect of teaching or the dynamics of backbends. But none became so intimately woven into my way of thinking and feeling that my life itself was changed. Michael had, and hearing that he was gone I knew my life would never be the same. I understood: some teachers speak to your heart. No other teachings last.
I met Dharma Mittra once. When I asked him about teaching, he said teach spirit. If you teach spirituality, people will come back. Even if you never see them again, they will come back.
But the holiest things are unspeakable. Michael taught me that.
I had a whole plan for this week's session, a meditation involving birds. But I think it's more important to be with this.
I haven't written here for months. I have an excuse: I didn't write because I didn't know what to say. The studio closed. I moved to Minneapolis. I got married. The world, the social and political world in which we move, has taken quite a few upending turns. I haven't had words to address any of this. People ask questions: where can I practice without the studio? What will Return Yoga look like, now? Where will you teach? Will you teach? These are all reasonable questions. But I've deflected them, or answered with dumb silence. I haven't had an answer. I simply didn't know.
I still don't. I was married and am calling myself Mrs. Carlson these days, but I'm carrying a driver's license that says otherwise. My signature has become an exercise in attention and confusion, an ostensible proof of the whole neural-patterning thing. You wouldn't believe how many times a day one has to sign a thing, or introduce oneself, or log into a bank account.
I spoke to one studio about teaching. I was interviewed (interviewed? Is that the word?) by a woman who had her two hundred hour certificate from Core Power and no idea what I was talking about with all my anatomy is psychology, movement is a question, talk. She didn't recognize my teacher's names, though they are big names in yoga studies. She didn't know my name, or Return Yoga, though I'd like to believe these things carry some weight. So I stopped talking. I just shut up. Though I'd brought them with me, I put aside all of the curricula I've written and courses I've taught, the interviews I've done and the publications of my work. I pushed them under my chair with my foot.
What this woman wanted was a group exercise instructor, someone to guide a work out two or three times a week. I can do that. I can push vinyasa flow til you tremble just like hundreds of other yoga teachers in the metropolitan region. Maybe (probably, one would hope after all this time) I can do it better than the most of those teachers.
But I don't know that I want to.
I came home and told my husband - who wasn't my husband yet - that it feels a tremendous step backward. I don't know how to make the transition from running a community studio (let alone the teacher training, the outreach, the sum cumulative body of work that is what I've learned), to being just one amidst hundreds of 'yoga teachers'. Not to cast aspersion on any one of their individual skills, but they are a dime-a-dozen.
Meanwhile I was asked, now that I'm not running a studio seven days a week, to work with the recovery community. Strictly therapeutic work.
One of these gigs is an addictions treatment center specifically for the queer community. There is always glitter on my mat. This pleases me. There's something redemptive in being fabulous at the darkest moments of your life. The last time I was there, the glitter moved from my palm to the air, and then to a woman's cheekbone. I noticed it like a drift of thought as I spoke and bodies breathed. After class, we had the most profound conversation about savasana I've ever had: there was a genuine inquiry, a pale open honesty, to the conversation; a straight look into how we're living and how we'll die. Because these folks don't have any preconceptions or ego investment in things like headstand, it's all inquiry. The questions, the fear, the novelty and exploration of experience is front and center. I can have them wiggle toes and roll around on the floor the entire time and call it 'yoga'. No one would challenge me. This is a blessed relief after trying to teach drop in classes seven days a week for years on end.
Yoga therapy is a contested topic: Do we mean physical therapy or is this some kind of mental health practice? Do we teach a different 'style' of yoga if trauma is involved? To apply clinical language to the thing raises questions of validity and measurable outcomes; it leads directly to insurance and all the other problematic issues of the medical industry. Furthermore and in the first place, is any of this provable? As much as I balk at group exercise, I'm also uncomfortable with the concept of yoga therapy. It has a weird, greasy smell to it. It has a vaguely fraudulent texture. Alternative is not a good word, when it comes to health. Just as alternative facts are lousy politics.
I tend to think 'yoga therapy' is a redundant phrase. More: the word 'yoga' and the word 'therapy' cancel each other out, making it a downright illogical phrase. It's a phrase hinting at cognitive misfire. To call anything yoga therapy is like saying 'medicine-pills', 'apple-fruit', or 'car-automobile'. It's not that these phrases are false; it's the troubling way they belie any context. Given context, reasonable people don't speak this way.
All this begs questions rather than answers them. So I contest and subvert and am never teaching what people expect. Teacher training isn't what people thought, but a startling exploration of one's place in the world and relationships. Inversion workshops end up being a lot of laying on the floor. Emotional health classes spend the whole time exploring the hip socket or the way the knee glides. It isn't that I object to yoga therapy so much as I am trying to do it: we all have physical issues and a broadband of mental health. You can't have sensation without emotion. Mental health, belief, and experience are physiological realities. Go ahead and try to parse the body from the mind. Mostly, I'm trying to discern and help us get a greater feeling for the context in which we're living and the choices we have.
But here I am teaching yoga -therapeutically- in clinical scenarios. Most of these folks have never done yoga before; they are not good at self care; their lives are troubled.
I'm loving it.
I love it except for the fact that it is a closed opportunity. It's an inherently limited experience: sooner or later it will end and it doesn't lead to anything. People can't just walk in to these classes, though I know a lot of people in the world who crave this kind of intimate practice. I came home and told my husband - who again wasn't yet my actual husband - that I love the work, the people, the feel; but I can't imagine staying in such a small space. I said this while studying a fleck of glitter on my forearm. Rubbing didn't dislodge it. I blew on it like dandelion fluff. It lifted and disappeared into the air.
What I'm personally trying to suss out as a yoga teacher is only a small - albeit privately urgent - version of what is happening on a broader scale. Small independent studios are closing. Seasoned teachers tend to start to teach things that don't 'look' like yoga. They weary of the workout and the stretching. Difficult questions inevitably come up, often in the form of their own bodies or the bodies they work with. I've watched a handful of teachers in the last year quit teaching because their own chronic health issues don't allow them to teach 'yoga' any more. Others simply can't stand the one-size-fits all, get-as-many-bodies- in- the- room- as- you- can approach. The festival and advertised aspects of yoga aren't as appealing as they looked from the outside. The Yoga Journal conference is cancelled until they decide what 'direction' they are taking. Online subscriptions are selling more than in-studio classes, although to look at Meghan Currie and Dylan Werner I'm not sure what it is we're practicing. The Observer notes that for every yoga teacher there are two in training. But a rumor reached me that Core Power - whose whole model is teacher training programs made to the order of puppy mills - is verging on bankruptcy.
This mass identity crisis isn't all bad. At some point we have to let go of childish illusions. Yoga is no different. Some yoga teachers become psychiatrists and social workers, others take up other systems of body work or cross disciplinary lines. I know one former yoga teacher who is calling herself a death duala these days. I know someone who dropped teaching to go into seminary. Others leave teaching in order to reclaim their own 'practice' and go on with their lives. There is so much more than yoga practice and teaching. There are relationships. Study. Work. Far from being a failure, I see this as proof: unless yoga resolves to a changed life, somehow informs our most intimate choices and important questions, it doesn't mean anything at all. It's just a hobby.
I watch this happening, over and over again: generally yoga is a phase and is dropped the moment shit gets real or a new shiny object comes into view; but occasionally, yoga seems to be the common but largely silent thread behind beautiful expressions of the human heart. Often this is exactly what happens when people stop coming to yoga after a year or three: they've changed, for the good, and the yoga served it's purpose. You see a glint of it, behind the story. But the story isn't yoga: it's about cancer or dancing or school children or oceans. It involves justice, and the meaning of a human life, singly and by the millions. It's the detritus of history, really, and the vague outlines of hope. The best stories are about death, or love. They are prayer songs or glittering star poems in the hot night, plain speak about the terrible difficulty of the beautiful world.
None of this answers the question of what do I, do. Not directly.
Someone said, a few months ago, that this is a transition and she's okay waiting until I get new gigs set up. No matter what, I'll be teaching yoga, she said. She said this with her face cast down but her eyes looking up at me from under her hair. I didn't answer as quickly as she might have wanted. I spent months not writing precisely because I didn't know, I wasn't sure: will I be teaching? I didn't even know that I wanted to, let alone 'should'.
Of course my students have a hard time parsing 'yoga' from my identity - they've only ever seen me in the context of teaching. Occasionally they run into me in grocery stores and don't recognize me in my street clothes. But I wasn't born to be a yoga teacher. This is is not the fulfillment of a life long dream. I've spent the last decade of my life objecting to the yoga industry, not aspiring to it. When people come to me for yoga therapy I send them forthwith and with alacrity to a mental health professional or medical intervention. This isn't a personal dream job.
It does happen to be the best thing I've ever done.
That isn't saying much: my life prior to yoga was a long eulogy, a kind of fantastic record of causing harm. My teaching career is proof that I can do better: I can be responsible, authentic, make a difference. Behind that, prior to that: I can be healthy and happy, I can be intimate and embody my own days, all the things necessary to entering a more meaningful life. But my identity is no more tied to teaching than it is to the surname I've just dropped.
I admit this is confusing. Reference the above difficulty in going through the day.
Everything happened so fast and simultaneously. It all happened at once: My high school sweetheart asked me to marry him and I closed the studio. These were different and independent things - correlation is not causation and all of that - but they happened at the same time. So I celebrated and I grieved, the one within moments of the other and often with snotty, blind and inchoate crying jags. Trump was elected. I bought a gown and began to think in terms of flowers. The government splintered between yes-men and rogue dissenters. The country splintered between swaggering bullies and the offended, the outraged, the in the end overwhelmed. The fourth estate came under fire. The judiciary came under fire. Old fires we thought dead roared into open spaces, licked into private ones. Civic and humane gains that took generations to make law have been attacked, undermined, and retracted. Formerly taboo racism came into the streets. Schools were plastered with racist epithets. Dreamers were deported and doctors, scientists, teachers were detained. Queer folk were targeted. Black people expressed mortal fear. White liberals were devastated with the revelation of their privilege. The Klan gathered in public spaces. My heart broke. Women marched, radiant with love and dissent. Scientists marched. Social workers, poets, and nurses marched. My heart swelled.
I stepped away from teaching just as people most needed community and a modicum of stress management. I hit the end of my own endurance just as the shit hit the fan. While things fell apart, my not-yet-husband and I adopted a puppy, bought a house, got a license to wed. My heart sang, and it busted.
A week before the wedding, I was at the florist. Surrounded by the dank breath of flowers, carrying an assortment of nominally crucial but mysterious to me wedding things, my cellphone rang and I learned someone had died. I was talking of bridal bouquets, but noticed the funeral arrangements. This was poignant enough to make me snort. The man was family, if we can call the divorced years of our lives still meaningful; he was my first husband's father. He was a man I used to dance with at Christmastime, drink coffee with on ordinary mornings. I remembered, in particular, a long drive in an old pickup truck across Wisconsin, toward Chicago. He smoked perpetual cigarettes. At that point, so did I. I imagined trails of tobacco breath and wisps of folk music, drifting across the long green hills and miles deep distance all these years later. I could smell his kitchen and taste Irish whiskey in my dry mouth.
More importantly - since death as far as the dead are concerned never worries me too much - I loved his son. I love him still, if love is a thing you can do years after parting. I wanted suddenly to catch him, my ex husband. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and lay my chin on his head. I could suddenly, presently, stronger than musk of roses, smell his hair. I know his skin. I didn't want him to hurt and knew he did hurt. Something private and tender in me burned. I thought: We walk around empty handed. Or with nominally crucial but mysterious things. Death shouldn't be a surprise, yet is always is. I don't have words, he was saying, for how bad this hurts. Standing like a bird bath in the flowers, I flushed with the phone to my ear, my knees wavered. I didn't want to hold him, I didn't want to protect him; I wanted to shelter his grief. It's so wild, grief is. And it is so vulnerable. Grief can be dangerous.
I was thick with an urgent love and a need to promise, something, to the man who was not yet my husband; and frail with sympathy for the one who used to be. Here are roses for the hot blood of vowing; lilies pale like the innocence returned by death. All of this was green. It's all fleshy. I found myself touching every nearby bloom, covertly tracing stem and fingering soil. I wanted to stick my face in flowers, ear deep, to weep and breathe green gratitude, white happiness, plain sympathy.
I came home and told the man I was about to marry that my ex-father-in-law had died, my ex-husband was grieving, and that I'd offered to bring food or comfort or just take him for a drive, help with the idiotic normalcy of funeral arrangements if he needed me to. I watched Gunnar's face as I said this, trying to decide if this was wrong, how to be delicate, if this was okay. I know the timing is ridiculous. Gunnar nodded, and I spent the evening with my ex. He collapsed, drunk into my arms, in the middle of the afternoon sidewalk.
Then I got married. My gown was encrusted with iridescent beads and structured like an architectural wonder. I called it my Empire State dress. It sang of monumental things and poured over me like throaty jazz. It glinted so that I myself shimmered: I bent and scattered the light of diamonds, walked and rivaled moon light on water. Glittering became a subjective experience, rather than an objective one. One piece of stray glitter is a surprise, out of context. To be glitter, glittering, itself, changes everything. I don't know when it was, exactly, if it was the signing of the paper or the kiss or the I do, but at some point that evening the man I love became my actual husband, and I became a wife.
But why, asked someone close to me, was I taking his name? Aren't I a feminist?
Yes. But my maiden name carries just as much patriarchy in it as a husband's name does. And then my husband is a feminist; in the months leading up to our marriage he repeatedly said he was willing to take my name. He further pointed out that his name isn't even his father's name, but his younger sister's father's name. Further still, as a rule, a black American surname goes back to a slave owner, at least the time of slavery, not familial identity.
These weren't my reasons, though. I took his name because I am willing to be changed by this relationship. And I am uninterested in going backward. Context - all of it - matters.
It means so much that I was nineteen years old. And, it means so much that I am not nineteen anymore. It's so important that I got sober, that Eddy didn't, that time has moved on, that Trump was elected, that people die, that we go on, that there is such suffering happening all the time, that the very planet is hurting and the ocean moans, the ice melts, the sky breaks. I have to believe these things mean something. And - more important - I have to believe that from all of this we can be deepened in our sympathy, have insights, become better lovers, discern the tools necessary to affect our own lives, touch gently the lives of others, change ourselves and our society in ways that, as of here and now, we can only imagine. I'm not talking about politics, or grief, or relationships and personal life. I'm talking about yoga. I'm insisting that contextually, they are exactly the same thing. You can't parse them. If you do, than yoga is nothing more than a hobby. If it's ever going to be anything other than a passing fad, it has to speak the language of our actual lives. When it does, lives change.
I still haven't answered the questions of what do I do, now.
I have to change my driver's licence, my bank account, my website. I had to order new business cards. I have to, in some way, decide and announce what it is I do.
I ended up with the words 'yoga therapy', in red text, across the bottom and under my name. I wondered at this, why I should choose something so provocative, what it means and if I'm not begging questions rather than answering them. But in the end I just went with it: I prefer to take up the questions and insist on context. This seems to be the best part of the process.
This morning I swept the floor. In the dusty browns and flecky dirt there was a rogue bit of glitter. I knelt and cocked my head at it, lifted it on my forefinger towards my face. I don't know if it came from teaching or from my wedding gown, or how it ended up in my dustpan. I realized, or was able to finally verbalize, a thing I've been trying to articulate for weeks: context is what makes yoga therapeutic. I can't teach pop culture yoga anymore; I think there's more to it than that. I think it's the glitter in the dust.
If there was ever a time when the deeper practices of the yoga tradition should be taught, it is now. I'm actually teaching more than I was in the studio, but quite differently. I'm working with people in a more intimate, on going way online; I go on mentoring other teachers, and can be found Thursdays at noon teaching at Tula Yoga in St. Paul.
There are moments when it all seems so easy. Things fall into place without effort. You seem to float. Only later, when it's not like that at all, do you start to wonder what it is you did to make it so easy. Where it is you lost track.
The answer is usually, nothing. You did nothing. It just happened.
The middle of winter, the turning of the year, the newness of the moon, social upheaval and exhaustion around us do not make for smooth sailing. I've always wondered at how - at why - the new year should be such a collective time of goal setting. Of longing to start over. Why we should collectively ask for resolve, just at this juncture.
I think it comes from being uncomfortable with where we are.
It's an uncanny transition. It's clearly time to let go and move on. But we don't know where we're headed. It's chaotically uncertain. When the festivities of the year past have ended, going back to work is unsavory. When New Year's is finally run in, there's a kind of discontent in having months of winter left to go. We're stretched thin between the physical and emotional strain of the past and scattering our selves all over the place moving forward.
We're flailing. Flailing - this determination to list things, change things, rearrange and grab or finally and emphatically renounce them - is a symptom of feeling lost and drowning. Flail is opposite of float.
This year suffered enormous losses and deep social strain. We're going through a collective grief. We're trying to say goodbye to the Obamas. We're trying to wrap our minds around a United States operating in ways the United States have never, ever behaved before. It's hard to wrap our minds around this.
After a moment - the ringing in of the new year, the flipping of a calendar, or the inauguration of a new president - we tend to lose the poignancy of reflection and slide into the mundane. I think it's important to realize that the clarity itself came from a deep dark place, rather than a fresh springtime one. We work with intention exactly when times are hardest. Intention only means anything if it works with our barriers. It's culling patience and skill in working with obstacles. It is a level, honest way to address things as they are. We have to direct ourselves exactly when we feel most lost, ground when we feel most vulnerable, and move when we most feel lethargic, uncomfortable, and unable.
Over and over again I'm hearing how deeply lost people feel. We have lost hope, lost direction, lost connection with where we were going or why. Relentless work or moving on or dealing with the next crisis and week are fair enough coping techniques. But they aren't effective healing.
In previous weeks I've been leading deeper practice through some work with intention. The tradition calls this Sankalpa, or intention that arises from the depths. Sankalpa is direction that arises from the unconscious, from the body itself, from experience and stillness. It is not about goal setting or ultimatums. This isn't productivity boost so much as it is a discernment process. With that discretion, force and impetus arises. An energy sourced from a deeper well. Sankalpa is direction that arises naturally from the heart of awareness.
The thing about resolutions - New Year's or any other kind - is that we tend to set the same ones year after year. We have the same problem areas, sticking points and bad habits circulating through our lives like an undertow. Over and over again we approach the same problems, have the same experiences, feel the same feelings. Cue cycles of shame and resentment.
What if we were to inquire into the deeper urge and get to know it, rather than endlessly - and meaninglessly - work for superficial change? When we do, we gain bright honest knowledge of the obstacles and ever greater skill in working with them.
I'm bringing us back to our intentions for the new year in this week's practice. To be effective we need to work with them consistently, more thoroughly, with a resolve. To re-ask a question from a different light illuminates the structures below. Clarifies the obstacles. Shows, with a steady and sane mind, that the obstacles are riddled with our own dysfunction. The obstacles resolve themselves to the underlying clarity, like a camera lens coming into focus.
Physically, many of our dysfunctions tend to be in the upper trunk. We experience chronic tension in shoulders, upper back, and neck and have a great deal of difficulty balancing strength with range of motion. From a subtle body perspective, intention and personal obstacles are also upper torso phenomena, a kind of miscommunication between our pumping vital capable body and our feeble flimsy neurotic mind. We end up trying to power our way through things or overthinking them, never able to smoothly sail betwixt the two in symphony.
People who have practiced with some consistency for a while tend to have more of a problem with this than neophytes. That is, while the neophyte tends to be completely disconnected and unaware of upper body, a yogi tends to have driven dysfunction deeper with the way he or she practices. As we start bearing weight on our shoulders, elbows, and wrists we develop tension areas we never had before while feeding a craving for more movement, more strength, more postures, and more sensational feats. We're feeding our craving/disgust cycles rather than quieting them. We get addicted to arm balances or have a very complicated and intervention-worthy relationship, with them. (Read, we might summarily dismiss them as ever being possible).
I've been working with upper body strength with some consistency for weeks: this time of year means compromised immunity, gunked lymph, hunched shoulders, raspy breath, and layers and layers of clothing against the elements. Upper body strength asks for a unique cardio-vascular and respiratory charge - a boon to midwinter - and is a reclamation of more natural and expansive ways of moving in our bodies. Psychologically, this tends to be more of a slap to awake than a stiff espresso.
Upper body strength is a kind of spooky, complex initiation. For many, it's simply not a thing we've ever felt. Strong. For those of us who have leaned on our strength our whole lives, it demands a subtlety and mastery, a kind of flexibility and refinement, more challenging than brute strength. And behind all this is a question: can we and should we be able to go upside down? I'm flirting with 'inversions' in these recent sequences: if you are a headstander or handstander feel free to take the whole of the pose. I'm cautious about teaching 'inversions' in an online format. You should learn to headstand with a teacher nearby. But the skill sets I'm teaching are the groundwork for the postures - they are the grammar out of which inversion language can sing and write poems. And they are the skill sets - the basic grammar - that most yogis brag with and bitch about without being able to really command.
This wheels back to a concept of float - of being able to suspend judgement, worry, obsession. To linger in potency, tap the root of deep urges and pulse. To feel for a moment that we aren't, actually, lost. We can let this weird space be transitory, rather than forcing a change.
A number of people have asked in the last few months about what the studio closing means. What it means for me, personally, and what it means for their own practice. One of the answers is the work online. This happened fairly organically. Providing asana teaching online has been something requested for years and years and I just never got around to it with the running of the studio. And I began to have more and more students, at a distance. Working with them became a question. I also began to have more and more questions, even in the studio, about how to learn chant, how to really begin a meditation practice rather than just intend to do it, how all these various concepts and experiences are supposed to tie together.
I'm trying to tie them together in the deeper practice subscription. I'm having so much fun with it. It feels progressive and organic, where drop in classes tended to feel very haphazard, something used for sporadic workouts or stress relief. When students want to start going deep, drop in classes aren't necessarily the best way to do that.
Anyway. I upload to the subscription site every Friday. Both a 90 minute sequence and a 30 minute guided sound/breath/somatic movement thing. I recorded them already for the week and have uploaded them - but won't move them to the subscription till Friday. So you can check them out for free until then.
Check them out.
I wasn't kidding when I said we should fully use our practice these days. Let it sooth you. Let it support you. Let it help. If you can get to a class, great.
But your practice doesn't depend on that. Your practice is a few minutes of shifted breath and attention, so that you can feel what it is like to be alive. In this moment, and the next.
This felt like an important point to make, so this morning I recorded a jeans on, no mat, no sitting down, no weight bearing on the arms thing. To get into breath. To move for ten minutes. So that you can sit, for ten minutes.
I have been quiet, but I am here. I was invited to a 'yoga and race' conversation. I paused. I am leery of 'yoga for', anything. In particular, I don't know that we should use our yoga to address systemic problems. I'm afraid that's whitewashing. Your yoga will not save the world. It might though, save you. That is the point and has always been the point. We need to work through and with our own, problems. Race was a white American problem, before the election results. Blaming, shaming, now says more about us than the country or republic. Do what you can. Use your practice. Use it to sooth yourself, steady yourself, see more clear. And then let it, and the safety pins, the facebook, the reactions go. Don't mistake practice for peace, social justice, or an answer. Just do it because it helps you.
Since the election, everything feels upended, volatile, and confusing. I encourage you to use all the tools of your practice to help with this: use it to sooth you, to ease the excess of tension and fatigue riddled across the body, to find a bit of space around your emotions, actions, and social roles. It is terribly important that we take good care of ourselves, now.
And, I encourage you to realize that your practice is not going to solve your, or the world's, problems. It is only a tool. Don't mistake it for an answer.
As a way to steady yourself, to not be alone, practice is a tool of non-harming. As a way to escape, it causes suffering. It too easily slides into self-righteousness. It is too easy to forget that practicing - especially practicing together - is a privilege.
The thing about privilege is its tendency to be forgotten or denied.
I raised some heckles about six months ago, when I said that yoga is not as inclusive as it claims or wants to be. It uses a lot of words and ideals. Often, it has given those who practice it a renewed or completely new sense of empowerment and connection. But it is not inclusive so much as it is race blind. And race blind (or gender blind, or social justice blind) is nothing but loud ignorance.
This is hard. And, it's okay.
If we don't realize our privilege, its a tool of harm. When we do realize it, we can perhaps wield it more skillfully.
So many people have been surprised by the election's results. Angry, terribly disappointed, disillusioned. We are mourning, and grief is hard. Notice, however, that many people of color were not surprised. Notice that newsworthy acts of racism have been perpetrated by children. Notice that race and power issues, gender, sexuality, and assault issues, gun issues, environmental issues, were real long before this election. Notice that Donald Trump even running for the presidency highlights a virulent current in our culture. The issue may not be that he won, but that he had support to run in the first place. #notmypresident expresses tremendous rage, a sense of disempowerment, and revolt. But it also denies the process of presidential elections: Trump IS our president elect.
The election was, indeed, a critical moment. Don't fall into believing, I said in community discussion the other day, that this was an election like any other.
Go deeper, go closer, use the practice:
It can help you. But it's end result is to send you back into the world. Private, and public. Real, time.
Don't shame others for their reactions, feelings, protesting or deciding not to. Realize that millions of people voted for conservative, neo-fascist, fear mongering politicians across the ballot: if this is surprising, than we need to more realistically understand our neighbors, just as we need to understand who is vulnerable and what vulnerability means. Wear your safety pins, but don't think them more than a gesture. Post or do not post on social media. Join, civic organizations. And know that it's also okay to not join, everything. Do your practice. But go closer into understanding what these things actually are and what they are, not.
Practice is both self care and the cultivation of skillful, action. It's the discernment, of one for the other. Don't confuse your self-care for other people's benefit. And don't become so active/passive that you lose all possibility of self-care.
Take very, very good care of yourself.
And act, skillfully as you can. Knowing that skillful is sometimes this, sometimes, that.
So Trump won. This morning I spoke of the importance of being together, of caring for ourselves, of feeling what we feel. We learn that we can stay in our body. Practice - the whole of our practice - has created a reservoir we can draw from on days, like today.
I got an email this morning. It asked if I realized I was wrong, yet, to politicize the space. "You lost the election, and you're losing your business. Can't you see that your fighting on the wrong side?"
I am afraid, and I am sad. But I am not done speaking of fear, of deep social need, and of how important personal practice is. How necessary, community and dialogue. Trump's win last night shows, something: he isn't the problem, the clown, or the bully: we are. This is our real. The issues are not new. They are systemic and they live in our bodies, our thoughts, our own community. The color of skin, the ways in which we love and are most intimate, how we worship and pray, gender is politicized. The problem isn't Trump, but a society that has lost it's democratic values, places bullying and violence over parity, is powered by fear. This is social, and it's personal. I continue to say: we are in crisis.
This is a practice of sitting down, so that we can stand up for what is most urgent. Sometimes, what is most urgent is the ability to speak with our kids. Or go to work. Sometimes, what is urgent is advocacy, empathy, community.
Wednesday 6 pm is usually a closed, class. But tonight everyone is invited. We'll move, a bit, as a way to sit, awhile. Together. To listen, to talk. Tears are safe here, as is anger and confusion. Everyone is invited.
Be not alone. Take care. We are not done.
Dear, everybody, With sadness, with deep feeling, I have to announce that the studio space will be closing on November 30, 2016. I recognize that this will bring questions, and sadness, and deep feeling to you as well. The studio will remain on full schedule for the rest of the month. I will be there every day; I want to be there for those questions and emotions. They are valid and important. I also want to help you figure out other options for practice locally, and how to continue practicing with me outside the studio space.
I've thought long and hard about this, and have explored every possible alternative to closing the doors. But renting a storefront is simply not financially sustainable for the kind of work Return, does.
In the early days of this decision, I felt a tremendous sense of failure and loss. This building holds such meaning, has held so many moments, took so much sweat and time and tears to bring into being. Opening took a tremendous leap of faith and unheard of personal bravery; closing felt like defeat. But going more deeply into the question, with talk and with time, I'm realizing this isn't a failure. It is, sad. But it's not a failure.
What has happened here has been stunning. Over 4000 people have practiced with Return, either in the studio or through outreach programs. That includes more than 500 kids. Return has worked with police, the fire department, and CentraCare. We've served domestic violence shelters, crisis centers, children's programs and public schools. From Return, people have brought their own practice to work, to classrooms, to co-workers, to students and clients and community groups.
Let's not be shy: the kind of teaching and level of practice at Return is far above par; the community, relationships, and experiences are special. We've gone through training, we've gone through births and deaths and community difficulty. We have cried together, realized how deep our hopes and intentions go, carved out strange new paths. We've healed, some things. And, we've discovered and held space for those things we can't, heal.
Even though the yoga industry is booming, and more people are practicing, independent yoga studios are struggling to hold ground. If the studio subsidizes classes, this is exacerbated. This is a hard, fact, and an open ended question: where do we find individualized teaching, educated instructors, and community if yoga classes are going the way of the gym?
It's an important question that I hope you take up, seriously, for yourself. I hope you seek out, experiences. Bring your discretion: know you don't have to resign yourself to classes that feel alienating or classes that feel injurious; nor do you have to feel alone.
There is a loss: having a public, special place is something we're losing in our culture. I know that a storefront window and open door policy makes practice available and visible. Without such a public space, how will the people who most need yoga, find it? How can practicing in a store or a basement compare to having a 'studio', devoted to the practice, smelling of incense? What happens when there is no place where you are invited to light candles in prayer?
I don't have an answer to this question. 710 West Saint Germain is precious to me. It holds all the resonance of a childhood home, or a place we first fell in love, a remembered lake. Brick and mortar places are often the structure for beautiful, life changing, and ordinary events. A context, for what we call our lives. They are the background out of which the 'self', appears. Without that structure, the 'self' is confused.
I don't have an answer to this question, other than a knowing that things can both be important, and change. Nothing lasts, forever. That doesn't make them less beautiful. They are beautiful, and they change.
One of my teachers spoke of the pain he felt on realizing his teachers were aging; the pain of knowing his teachers were going to someday, die. After some time, he came to a new understanding: You don't take the teaching of the teacher, with you. You become, the teacher. You embody, the teaching.
I've heard this teaching in old Buddhist stories, when social service agencies close, and when beloved yoga teachers move. One story has it that the teacher was dying. The students gathered. The man was seriously, dying. Mortally ill and pale. Wheezing, ashy, and mostly dead. When the students began to wail and mourn, he sat up. He sat up and he threw things, directly at their heads. You idiots, he said. You idiots.
The story ends there.
The moral does't.
The students had forgotten the point of this practice, the whole gyst of the story. The moral of the story isn't about the teacher. It's about, you. You become, the teacher. You go on, making space around you sacred.
This morning Mariah taught the 8 am class. It was the first time she'd ever done such a thing, led others through what she feels and loves so much. She opened with a few words about finding direction and times of change. I sat, as a student, and felt hot tears coming. They burned, and they were sweet.
Mariah came to the studio - was pushed into it, reluctantly, by her therapist - as a young and hurting teenaged girl. Something in her stilled. Something broke open. Something made her see her own beauty. She came, she practiced, she asked questions. She kept coming back. She didn't notice, but others have been inspired by her. When she speaks of how yoga gave her tools for anxiety, how she'd struggled her whole life and found something here, others listened and nodded.
I've watched her grow over the last few years. I've watched her step into autonomy, independence, strength. Sometimes she still says 'I don't know if I can handle it', but when I look at her and consider where most people are at her age, I know she'll be just fine. She wants to be a teacher, got the training syllabus, has done the homework even though she hasn't been able to attend training yet, shows up on her mat every single day. When she heard the studio was closing, she asked if she could teach. I don't want to miss the opportunity, she said, this has changed my life. She closed class with a flash of a grin, told us 'it's been my dream to teach here'.
This morning, Mariah taught us love, and change. I hugged her hard and felt like a proud, mama bird. She isn't the only one. She isn't the only one, changed.
I am, still available. Speaking with a close friend, she pointed out that my teaching has outgrown, the brick and mortar of 710. Opening the space, running the space, was a tremendous step of personal growth. It was important to me that I come home to Saint Cloud, that I be of service, that I set down some roots. It was important to me that I try an alternative to commercialized, yoga. And, it's important that I not hang on.
I am still available. I'll continue to work with trainees and mentees, setting out goals for their work, co-coordinating service work, talking about on-going study and personal development. I'm doing this long distance with a few, far-away teachers, across the country, via skype, and am open to taking on more.
I am, still, available.