Category Archives: Poetry

Indulging & Impermanence

 

Photo on 5-3-13 at 6.42 PM

A self-inulgent sorrow selfie. Embarrassing but true*

I used to wrap myself up in nostalgia. Not happy nostalgia, like “Remember when we all wore acid-washed jeans,” but more like… hm, deep grey clouds of melancholy nostalgia. I was secretly proud of my ability to nurse a bittersweet memory. I made regret an art form, sculpting what-ifs in my head into castles of fantasy lives I’d never get to live.

These days, I’m able to see a little more clearly that things pass, and that nothing lasts, and that this is mostly okay. As Buddha suggested, I suffer less as a result.

I was recently listening to a Dharma teaching on this concept of impermanence and was struck by a particular line: “The emotions of the past are gone,” said my teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche.

When I say struck, I mean it felt like I was physically struck- spontaneous tears actually welled up. The emotions, gone? But, but… I LIKED those emotions. Even the sad, sorry-for-myself ones.  I’d spent so much time nursing them, cultivating my garden of self-pity. In an instant I saw clearly that I had been attempting to carry these emotions with me into the present, but that they had already changed. New emotions were there, and some of them might be similar, but nothing was quite the same.

I recently ended a relationship (this is the VERY short version, friends), and at the same time, I reconnected with someone that I loved and lost many years ago. So I’ve had the opportunity to look back and consider, compare, and contrast the similarities and differences between these two loves.

There are many patterns to observe, but one that I see clearly is a tendency to fondly romanticize both the high points and the low points of the relationships. To dwell in them, to turn them over in my memory until I can’t be sure how much  is truth and how much an idealized emotion- one that changed long ago, despite my insistence on dragging it with me like an old battered bag full of crap.

A little indulgence in memory, in past emotion, in lost love, can feel awfully good. But it doesn’t always serve me well. I’m working to turn transform this indulgence into inquiry instead- yes, I think it’s good to appreciate and remember, but I’m also finding that some space around the emotion/memory/whatever can help me to see (and, I hope, release) the patterns that have caused suffering.

The following poem- The Lost Garden by Dana Gioia- speaks to this very phenomena in a much more beautiful way. Enjoy.

The Lost Garden

by Dana Gioia

If ever we see those gardens again,

The summer will be gone—at least our summer.

Some other mockingbird will concertize

Among the mulberries, and other vines

Will climb the high brick wall to disappear.

 

How many footpaths crossed the old estate—

The gracious acreage of a grander age—

So many trees to kiss or argue under,

And greenery enough for any mood.

What pleasure to be sad in such surroundings.

 

At least in retrospect. For even sorrow

Seems bearable when studied at a distance,

And if we speak of private suffering,

The pain becomes part of a well-turned tale

Describing someone else who shares our name.

 

Still, thinking of you, I sometimes play a game.

What if we had walked a different path one day,

Would some small incident have nudged us elsewhere

The way a pebble tossed into a brook

Might change the course a hundred miles downstream?

 

The trick is making memory a blessing,

To learn by loss the cool subtraction of desire,

Of wanting nothing more than what has been,

To know the past forever lost, yet seeing

Behind the wall a garden still in blossom.

*Please don’t worry, guys. I’m really quite okay, and was even when this photo was taken. 🙂 It was a moment of nostalgic, self-indulgent mental “weather.” It passed and all is well.

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Summer Solstice- Inspiration (Poem)

Posted this morning by Shiva Rea on Facebook- I loved its spirit and the promise, and will let it inspire me this summer. Enjoy:

I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,

to make me less afraid,

more accessible;

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom,

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

~Dawna Markova

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Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video / Foter.com / CC BY

Courage

courage-ee-cummings

Back from retreat and right into new duties as studio manager for geoYoga– on top of some other big changes.

Things can be pretty scary sometimes, can’t they?

However: I am encouraged by my students and friends, those I meet on the path, to be strong, to remember that all things are temporary, and that we can find some measure of ease even in the discomfort. I am grateful to remember that you don’t always have to do things alone. I am reminded that I am not the first person to face these challenges. I see signs that I’m growing up, and, as ee cummings says, that takes courage.

Etymologically speaking: have you ever noticed that the word “encouraged” includes the word “courage?” Seems silly now, but I hadn’t seen this until today. The idea that in being encouraged, you are given courage- how brilliant, simple, and true.  I am given courage by my community, by my family, by what is called in the yoga and Buddhist traditions a sangha.

There have been times in my life where I did not know how to ask for help- or I thought I didn’t deserve the help- or maybe I was just afraid to look like I needed help. Now, I can look with eyes of love at the compassion and kindness of my family and friends (I never knew how many I had!) and know that sometimes it’s just your time to receive.

I recently received an especially sweet and compassionate encouragement from a senior teacher:

Move toward whatever nourishes you- to whatever illuminates the path for you.

I’m sharing her words with you as well, in the hopes that you may find courage there when you need it.

Finally, noticing how the quality of courage can change as we grow and mature, I am inspired by this beautiful poem that I’ve used in class recently. I hope you enjoy.

Courage

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off our heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

“Courage,” by Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Toward God (Houghton Mifflin)

With love and encouragement- and wishes for, perhaps, a more specifically yoga-related blog soon-

Laura

The Lion’s Roar! (In Which The Author Abandons Hope and Allows The Present Moment)

The Lion's Roar!

I have abandoned hope. Not to worry- I’m not despairing, and I’m not like, “giving up on life,” or anything like that.

It’s just this: I’m forsaking hope, and its cousin, fear, and its nerdy cousin, obsessive planning (he wears a pocket protector, I think).

You’re shaking your head. What’s wrong with hope? Don’t we want things to be better? Don’t we long for a better life, an end to suffering? Of course we do- it’s human to want to experience pleasure and avoid pain. The problem is that in clinging to hope, we’re creating more suffering. We’re avoiding our own lives in lieu of a fantasy future.

Pema Chodron, in When Things Fall Apart, reminds us that “hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

So what do we do instead of hope? We practice staying present in the moment, living each uncomfortable breath one at a time, until we learn that, as Geneen Roth* says, “It is possible to be with what you believe will destroy you without being destroyed.”

I am, by nature, a worrier and a planner. When my husband and I purchased our house and I submitted our financial records to the mortgage lender, he was initially impressed by my quick ability to provide the statements to him. He soon became lost, though, as he tried to make sense of my obsessive transfers from account to account. My way of managing financial stress is to micro-manage funds. “I’ve never seen anything quite so confusing,” he said. Confusing, yes- but it sure distracted me from feeling the financial pain at the time.

I wrote recently about Christopher Baxter‘s workshop on Yoga of the Subtle Body, and here it is again (Hey, it was really good). Christopher told a story of his own in which he was struggling to create a sound plan for his future. No matter how he tried to finagle it, he could not come up with a safe plan, and it was really bothering him. When he mentioned the dilemma to a Buddhist friend, the friend told him gently: “There is no safe plan. Something will always happen. Even if you could come up with a plan that worked for you, it would still just be a fantasy belief in a fantasy plan.”

This was one of those great light-bulb moments for me. When I left my safe 40-hour-a-week job this year, I planned as best I could for our financial security. I rearranged finances, cut back where we could. My husband and I even got married (after 11 wonderful years of “who needs marriage” relationship) so that we could share his health insurance. I felt nervous, but glad that I had such a safe plan. I quit the job and began teaching yoga full-time.

(cue dramatic music)

Until… Danny lost his job. Unexpectedly. After 14 years- who would have thought? We had no health insurance. My income was less than half of what I had been making. And my careful hoping, worrying, and planning, like a house of cards, fell to the earth- fantasy belief in a fantasy plan.  @#$%^@%&#$&!!! <–( represents actual, non-yogic cursing)

In the face of lost hope, I was challenged to really live my yoga. This was an opportunity to practice what is known in Buddhism as “The Lion’s Roar.” Trungpa Rinpoche describes this as: “the fearless proclamation that any state of mind, any circumstance, any part of ourselves, including the most difficult emotions, is a workable situation, a reminder in the practice of meditation.”

Today we are still not “safe” and secure. The future is uncertain, and my work life changes drastically from week to week. It feels as though I am standing on trembling earth and cannot build a house. And yet…

I know it is possible to live with what you think will destroy you without being destroyed. I know that hope is false, and planning is a distraction, and when I worry, I am cheating myself of all the beauty in my daily life.

I am roaring like a lion, in this and every breath! I have hurled the pocket protector of planning into oblivion! And I am learning to be courageous in the present moment.

One final reading for you. I notice in this poem, the author uses the positive word, “Allow,” rather than the negative phrase, “Abandon Hope.” Embrace that instead, if you like.

Allow – Donna Faulds

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream, and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in-
the wild with the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

*Geneen Roth is the author of Women, Food and God, which I imagined at one time was too unbearably silly for words, and now, I find, has become an important book in my life. Thank God for change.

Photo credit: M Norris / Foter / CC BY-NC

Poem: Your Other Name by Tara Sophia Mohr

In keeping with the Halloween theme, this poem is inspiring me today.

{With thanks to the author, Tara Sophia Mohr, and to Elena Brower, who so often inspires me in her classes with poems like this one.}


Your Other Name 

If your life doesn’t often make you feel
like a cauldron of swirling light –

If you are not often enough a woman standing above a mysterious fire,
lifting her head to the sky –

You are doing too much, and listening too little.

Read poems. Walk in the woods. Make slow art.
Tie a rope around your heart, be led by it off the plank,
happy prisoner.

You are no animal. You are galaxy with skin.
Home to blue and yellow lightshots,
making speed-of-light curves and racecar turns,
bouncing in ricochet –

Don’t slow down the light and turn it into matter
with feeble preoccupations.

Don’t forget your true name:
Presiding one. Home for the gleaming. Strong cauldron for the feast of light. 

Strong cauldron for the feast of light:
I am speaking to you.
I beg you not to forget.
Photo credit: shadowbrush / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Poem: “Beannacht (Blessing)” by John O’Donohue

This week, just a little poem to share with you. It may be helpful to know that a “currach” is a type of Irish boat. The author (since deceased) wrote these lines for his mother. You can find more information on O’Donohue’s life and work at http://www.johnodonohue.com.

Beannacht – For Josie

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

Yoga Poem: “Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton

Part of the pleasure of being a teacher is getting to share concepts, readings, bits and pieces of essays and poetry that echo something I feel in my soul. I ran across this poem recently and have been inspired to share it with some classes. 

Although I don’t know that the author considered herself a yogi, I do know that these lines may ring true for many of my yogi friends. I won’t trivialize her words by attempting to add more of my own. Please enjoy:

Now I Become Myself, by May Sarton 

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–“
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

(“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.)

For more on May Sarton’s life, and a few more lovely, haunting poems, please see the good folks at this site.