On my desk are two books that have “Mindful” in the titles: “Mindful Meandering” by Laura Lee Fritz. It’s a workbook containing 132 original continuous-line quilting designs. The second book is “Mindful Reflections – Patterns of Hope” by Antoineta Edwards. It is a journal for reflection, growth and relaxation. Interestingly, both use quilt patterns and mindfulness concepts. A copy of the May issue of LA YOGA is close by. Inside is an article on a “Call for Education Around Mindful Communication”, by Adam Avin, a 14-year old who founded the Wuf Shanti Program. The theme of mindfulness abounds.
Antoineta attends my yoga classes at the library. She got interested in the classes because I teach mindfulness. She wrote a dedication in the journal I purchased, “Analyn, thank you for inspiring us to be mindful in our lives…”
After completing the first mindful exercise from her book I felt a sense of accomplishment without really doing anything. I followed the steps of reflecting on the quote, writing down what came to me, then followed with two writing exercises on what I like about Analyn and what I am grateful for. (It’s key in the exercise to write “I like <your name>”). The last step is to color in the quilt pattern. Optional is a final step to write an afterthought, like a celebratory thought.
Perhaps a lot is being accomplished in a state of doing nothing – in that mindful stillness. In allowing a pen in hand to meander and to color I achieved a state of relaxation and surrender – a natural state of equilibrium.
Laura Lee Fritz’ book is designed for quilt makers to use the 44+ meandering patterns. “Meandering” is a terminology in quilting to describe lines that do not intersect other lines. She notes at the end, “A word about art… Throughout history, quilts have represented people’s lives, often expressing a love of story as well as a love of color. It is sufficient to practice your craft in an expressive way, and follow the path of just ‘doing it’. You will begin to see the world with a greater attention to what it truly looks and feels like, and those observations will appear in your work. Now you are an artist.”
Meanwhile, Adam Avin says “As a 14-year old, I’m striving to live my life to the fullest. But it’s hard when…” and he lists the distractions of the discouraging news on the TV about danger and shootings. What can we do? he asks. “I think we can look at education.” Wuf Shanti program is a team that visits schools and children’s hospitals to teach how to practice yoga, meditation and positive thinking. “Yoga, meditation and mindfulness can improve the healing process, help us handle stress and have better interaction with others.”
A beginning exercise of mindfulness is to observe the breath. Tuning the attention to the breath, the seer can also watch how the mind wanders away from observing the breath. The seer reminds the mind to watch the breath. It is a continuous observation of the flow of the breath and the flow of the mind. In doing this exercise the practitioner begins to understand the nature of the mind – how the mind can move from one thought to another and another so easily like a gamboling goat on the side of a mountain.
What is the connection between the mindful books, the LA Yoga article and mindfulness exercise on the breath? I summarize it to a conversation I had with Alex, the owner of a motorcycle maintenance and repair shop on Pico Blvd. He’s a racer and also a mechanic, the kind of mechanic any motorcyclist would want to go to when you’re cruising and zooming along on two tires. Alex knows and has the feel for motorcycles and the rider. I venture to identify Alex as a mindful person. He’s the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance. He’s the observer and the doer.
He specializes in motorcycling and as a seasoned racer, mechanic, entrepreneur and mentor – his education is a process that can be applied to other areas in life. Mindfulness is a process of revelation; and in peeling off layers to reveal the true nature of things there is also an accumulation of more light – an illumination that brings about clarity and a sense of peace. His process of accumulating a body of knowledge and work from years on the track, the shop, running a business and being an artist can be transposed to the “human condition”. The “human condition” is what is.
We came to the conclusion in our conversation over a bottle of Pacifica when the shop work had wound down, and my Suzuki was ready to go. The bike was scheduled for a fork job. The seals had been worn and rust had started to corrode the forks. He gave the bike extra TLC: he lowered the seat so that I don’t have to be on tippy toes; fixed a slow leak on the back tire, oiled the kick stand. I noticed he also polished my mirrors – a finishing touch like putting the sprig of mint on a strawberry parfait.
We talked about the education of police officers who are trained to shoot a person posing a threat. The example was a mentally imbalanced sixty-year old woman who is wielding a knife. If she moves to threaten a police officer then the officer is trained to shoot her once she’s within a defined perimeter – say 16 feet. It is baffling why the officer is not trained to contain the situation, rather than pull the trigger as the first line of defense. The officer could call for backups or at worst shoot to disarm the woman (say aim at the feet), rather than aim to kill. Then upon containment of the situation call on an expert to deal appropriately with the hysteria of the woman, and perhaps begin to understand the root cause of the problem instead of shutting off the possibilities of beginning to understand why she’s mentally imbalanced and carrying a knife.
“The main purpose of education should be to enable us, as John Dewey said, to come into the possession of all our powers, to help us grow as human beings, and to locate our potentialities so that we can better develop them” – interview with Norman Cousins from November/December 1984 posted on Mother Earth News.
A practice on mindfulness is a path that leads to seeing the possibilities and the potentialities within an individual. As an example, to control your breath as means to direct and extend the prana (life force) within you has a direct effect on the mind and anatomically the brain that secretes hormones that brings a sense of calmness and even euphoria. In a state of equanimity we can make better choices. Mindfulness is a practice. It is not medicine. It is exercising your free will to choose to attend and to be present to regularly practice mindfulness. There are other methods of practicing mindfulness and it need not be in a yoga studio.
“What is the eternal and ultimate problem of a free society? It is the problem of the individual who thinks that one man cannot possibly make a difference in the destiny of that society.” – Norman Cousins from his book “Human Options”.
Alex White is practicing mindfulness just being human and doing his work of calling. His mindful practice resolves to showing compassion to a fellow rider and being a steward of human kindness.
I express a deep gratitude to Alex who has helped me deal with all of the motorcycle work and dealing with the situation of Bruno’s fatal accident on his bike. Alex is a solution to the problem of a free society. He made a positive difference in my life and that will have domino effect that I can make a positive effect on others too.
When you’re seeking motorcycle advice, repair, maintenance, performance tuning and purchases of bikes and accessories go to MPS – Motorcycle Performance Services, located at 4150 W Pico Blvd 90019. Phone number: 323-939-2370. You’ll find Alex there and his sweet and friendly staff including the two gorgeous German Shepherds.
I am self-conscious in my new outfit, a widow of a tragic accident, but my self-awareness is still intact. I will shush the self-conscious one and let the self-aware wise woman on the hill write so that I can get on with the task of living authentically.
The last three and half months has been an inward and outward journey. I feel I’ve exploded and imploded at the same time. To make sense of death the way it came upon Bruno and our life is still beyond making sense to me. Maybe someone else has the answers so I talk to others who’ve been through this and I read a lot. I found a copy of “Further Along The Road Less Traveled” by psychiatrist and educator M. Scott Peck. The third chapter, “The Issue of Death and Meaning”, speaks how society has a tendency to turn away from the reality of death. He observed, “Of course, most people have very little taste for struggling with the idea of their death. They do not even want to think about it. They want to exclude it from their awareness thereby limiting their consciousness.”
Yesterday, Monday morning, I racked my head for what to blog about. I struggled with not writing from the shoes I’m wearing; one who has just lost a dear loved one, my husband. But nothing else has occupied my mind other than that loss. What can I contribute from my perspective? I asked myself. At this moment I can share that the pain, suffering and sorrow have expanded my consciousness. It is a loss of innocence, not unlike losing one’s virginity that opens a new dimension to living and dying. Losing sexual innocence is not just the ecstasy of a sexual relationship but the wholeness of losing oneself in a relationship – the whole gamut of sharing inner and outer space together with someone you’ve chosen and whose chosen you.
There was supreme joy in finding that special one, Bruno, who loved me for who I am and not what I am. His joie de vivre and compassion attracted all kinds of people and he accepted them all. We were enthralled by his burning bright flame till one day that light was snuffed out. The pain of the loss is confounded by the suffering of the suddenness and unexpected death; and deepened by a hit and run accident on his motorcycle, only five minutes away from home. All that is a tape that plays over and over. I get relief by meditating, gardening, eating, drinking and trying to get on with life again.
Death is a shadow on my shoulder, but I don’t carry it in a morbid sense. I appreciate the circle of support I’ve received from friends and family. I encounter loving and caring words and gestures from strangers whose heard about it, or with whom I’ve shared the news with directly.
In Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying” she identifies the stages a person who is dying can experience and these are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages are also the same process that a person experiences in steps towards psychological or spiritual growth.
I cannot say it better than how M. Scott Peck ends the third chapter other than to quote him directly:
It is not an easy journey. The tentacles of narcissism are subtle and penetrating and have to be hacked away day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Forty years after first recognizing my own narcissism, I am still hacking.
It is not an easy journey (he repeats), but what a worthwhile journey it is. Because the further we proceed in diminishing our narcissism, our self-centeredness and sense of self-importance the more we discover ourselves becoming not only less fearful of death, but also less fearful of life. And we become more loving. No longer burdened by the need to protect ourselves, we are able to lift our eyes off ourselves and to truly recognize others. And we begin to experience a sustained, underlying kind of happiness that we’ve never experienced before as we become progressively more self-forgetful and hence more able to remember God.
I hack away at the weeds daily, throughout the day and the night, hoping and hoping that light will pour in through the crack.
Upon Bruno’s sudden and unexpected accidental death on his Yamaha, the world changed in varying degrees. Like a Google Map I am faced with re-centering my life. It’s not our life as a married couple, but my singular life.
‘dBruno Hervé CommereucMy mom gives me a well meaning advice this morning. Remove his clothes from the drawers to make room for yours. I bit my lip and clamped off the Mt. Vesuvius inside of me. If you have an opinion just keep it to yourself I wanted to scream.
People say, “He’d want you to be happy. You have to move on.” My intellect gets it but my heart doesn’t. Better to keep your opinions for later because right now I only need your presence and not your judgments. Be one of my dogs and just sit with me. It’s times like this when there are no words.
As a writer I write to make sense of what’s happening. I want to write but I can’t. My heart is lead and every limb and joint is heavy too. I want him to linger. I want his scent to stay. I cut off the string from the lemon tree where he hung the wasp trap. I save the knot because no one will ever tie a knot like Bruno… the way he would truss a bird before it goes into the oven to feed the lonely hearts and the empty bellies.
There are no words to put order in the midst of chaos. I move like an automaton to survive. Yes I’ve got that. I can’t let the wall of dignity crack lest ‘I lose it.’ Maybe this is why people offer structures to align myself to: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Please don’t ask me this question in a phone call in between errands. It hurts my feelings.
Words create order. A skilled writer and/or speaker can put disorder into order. A meteorologist can enlighten what’s happening in a hurricane. The eye of the storm is the calm surrounded by the vortex of violent forces that destroy what we believed as permanent. No matter how hard I tidy up, sweep the floor, dust the picture frames and put clean laundry in its proper place entropy will rule. It’s a matter of time. How long can I keep up this face of composure like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall?
The natural laws of the universe is held in place by a tension… Life is a delicate balance shadowed by that moment of “Time is up. Let’s go. Leave all else behind. You won’t be needing it. You’re a light traveller. You are light.”
On January 15, 2018, Bruno Hervé Commereuc was killed by a hit and run driver at the corner of 54th Street and Arlington in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for information to help in apprehending the driver of the grey Nissan 370Z (updated vehicle description from the flyer, below) who is still at large.
Do a search on the internet with the words “yoga and creativity writing” and a plethora of websites for “writing & yoga retreats” will cascade down the page. I’ve written in a past blog of how yoga has helped me through chaotic times in my life. I teach yoga to young children (ages 2 to 5), seniors and at a Pilates studio or anybody else who’ll listen to me expound the benefits of the practice. Now, I want to teach it to fellow writers because of the parallel universes of writing and yoga.
Yoga is an exploration to our inner territory using our mind, our breath, our awareness and our body as it moves together into a pose (or ‘asana’ in Sanskrit). It’s the same journey with writing. My first writing teacher in Vancouver warned her students to be careful with their bodies as they write, because the energy of the thoughts and words is cathartic and moves along the tissues of our bodies and breathes out through the pores of the skin. Writing moves the molecules of our breath, whether its held and waiting for release or the replenishing cycle of intake, then over and over again, till we say it is done. In another writing workshop here in LA, I shared with my group that I always felt lethargic when trying to get some tracks down on the paper. Some writers understood what I was experiencing. The teacher said that the process is natural, because we were working through some sludge, and it’s not unusual to sleep a lot working through the heavy lifting of writing about it. It does take courage to write some things; and beyond that it takes endurance to get through it. I’m still working on both.
Courage and endurance is part of regular yoga practice. It’s not always easy to show up on the mat (or be in that quiet space) where you decide to work it out. Some days you try out a new pose that looks gorgeous, but when you imagine and assemble the different parts of your body to fit the pose, it’s a wobbly faulty towers. It’s the same with writing too. There are some things I want to say but the assembled words are not expressing the essence, so I let it go. Perhaps try again another time. Or I may decide after further attempts that I’m not yet ready. It’s the same with yoga. Sometimes I have to let go and admit that an asana is not for me, not yet anyway. “Adho Mukha Vrksasana” (translates to Downward-Facing Tree Pose or Handstand) is a mouthful for me, and I’m not ready to try it, because, because… fear. I’m afraid that I don’t have that upper body strength, I don’t have the technique, or that it’s not worth the effort today. Maybe someday I’ll get around to it. Yoga is not about the body fitting into the asana, rather it’s the asana fitting the body. Yoga and writing is about expression and the honesty of the expression.
I like how the yoga teacher, Sarah, tells her story about the Handstand: “that this is the scariest pose for me”, and that “for many years I just avoided it”, and that “now a days I just try a little bit every day”, and that “to be okay with where I’m at”, and finally, “to learn compassion for yourself”.
Were I to introduce yoga to writers I would start with chest opening and hip opening asanas. If you’ve heard of the expression ‘issues in your tissues’ or ‘biography is your biology’ then I’d start with these parts of our anatomy because we carry our grief, joy and stresses in these areas. I am inviting you to join me in a yoga and writing practice. Are you interested to try this? I’m game if you are.
It was a visit from the SPCA that prompted the owner to remove Stuart from the junkyard. The officer had asked the man living next to the place if he knew the owner. “Soul” (aka Michael) told the officer he didn’t have the guy’s information, but he did know that the dog is neglected. It was only through the constant care of neighbors that kept the dog fed and watered. Those who were aware of the situation couldn’t fathom why the dog was “guarding” a junkyard littered with old dump trucks, pickups, and broken concrete and 2 by 4s with exposed rusty nails. The dog, Stuart, slept under the belly of a dump truck.
When I first noticed Stuart it was he who made eye contact with me. His expressive brown eyes looked into mine when I walked by casually with my two dogs, Goliath and Molly (a mix breed of Rottweiler & German Shepherd and a purebred Cocker Spaniel). Stuart didn’t pounce and bark at us. He sat on a mound under the trees, about 10 yards from the chain wire fence that would eventually become the only means we could touch one another. A few more times after that first meeting, I came around to observe what the deal was. I talked to Soul and the old man who owned the house next to the junkyard. The owner comes once in a while to feed the dog, and only slips the food under the solid metal fence. He never takes the dog out for a walk. The first time I approached the owner I broached the idea of adopting Stuart. “He’s lonely” I told him. “Yeah, but I need him,” he countered. It was beyond arguing with a man who needed a dog to guard scrap metal. There’s a mental illness that can’t be reasoned with when someone has a need to sacrifice the life of a living creature to protect material objects that are no longer in use.
After I overcame the initial fear of slipping my hands under the metal gate to check on the food and water, I was horrified and disgusted to find the water bowl filled with slimy water and dotted with furry blackish mold. I took it home, scrubbed it clean with bleach and brought it back to the yard refreshed with clean water. When Stuart recognized I was a friend he let me touch him through the eyelets of the fence. I became a habitual visitor bringing food, water and giving him cheese at night as a ritual of putting him to bed. I came so often (2 – 3X during the day on my way to and from work and once again at night) that people living nearby started to ask if I was the owner. On other occasions people would stop in their car and said “you’re doing a good thing.” They were aware and grieved by Stuart’s solitary confinement. In the mornings he would sit by the fence and watch the traffic go by. At sundown he would do the same thing as though appreciating the beauty of the changing lights. At nights I would rouse him from sleep to give him cheese like the chocolate placed on the pillow in the nice hotels when they turn down the bed. I waited for him to crawl out from under the dump truck, worried that if there was an earthquake he would be crushed. He accepted the cheese then wandered back to being sandwiched between the cold earth and the belly of the dump truck.
One day, Soul came to ask me, “Do you want the dog?”. I said yes. He would do it for a fee. I said I’ve already offered $500 to the owner to take the dog from his hands, but he won’t have it. So Soul said he would steal the dog for me if I gave him $600. I didn’t want anyone to break the law. The dog is a personal property. As much as I wanted to free Stuart from his miserable incarceration I couldn’t face up to the consequences of something like that. I emailed Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about the situation complete with pictures. They replied that the South LA Animal Services is a “tricky” jurisdiction. I surmised that when the Stuart’s owner told me he knew some folks at the Animal Services that they condone the situation. So my next step was to contact the German Shepherd Rescue Society. They were more helpful than Peta. They advised me to report the situation to Animal Services while they also came around to check out the situation. Upon seeing Stuart’s living condition they filed their own complaint to Animal Services.
I was so absorbed by this situation that I talked to anyone and everyone about Stuart. My dental hygienist also called Animal Services and she had the right intuition to call SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Eventually, Animal Services and the SPCA did their own separate investigations and reached out to the owner to fix the problem. They posted letters on the metal fence and buggered the people living next door to the yard to get the owner’s contact information. I started to feel good about the possibility that Stuart would be relieved from having to endure the jail yard. I continued to nurture him with food, water and affection. I was really loving this dog, because he was such a beautiful spirit.
One Saturday morning I had to get up at 4 o’clock to drive my husband to work. On my way back home I had stopped by the yard to say hi to Stuart. It must’ve been around 5 in the summer. The sun was already rising and Stuart was up and sitting by the fence. He looked regal and guru-like as though a Bodhisattva communing with the gods in meditation. When I came to the fence he walked up and rolled on his side, belly exposed. I stroked him and we sat together in silence, comforted by the companionship and friendship. I said I’d be back later. I went home to sleep. I dreamt about Stuart. He and I were frolicking down a hillside of a meadow in a starburst sun. I woke up happy and looked forward to giving him his food and water. I had been experimenting with the law of attraction, and divined that if I imagined it hard enough then I can manifest what I want. I wanted Stuart to be part of my family and to be free. When I returned to the yard, he didn’t come around to eat. He was gone. I worried that he might be hurt somewhere in the yard, and I couldn’t see him or get to him. I searched around and asked people if they knew what happened to Stuart.
It’s been almost 3 months since Stuart disappeared from the junkyard in late August. I called Animal Services and SPCA and was baffled by their response. Both groups said once the dog has been removed from the place then they do not follow up on his condition. I felt I knew what it must be like for a parent to have a missing child, not knowing their offsprings whereabouts or condition. The child has gone missing. Missing is a deep longing for reuniting. I’ve since tried to reconcile myself with living without knowing what happened. I still call Animal Services to find out what’s happened, but they’ve turned a deaf ear to my inquiries because they’re too busy with other cases. I wonder how many missing cases they’ve accumulated. The SPCA officer has also closed the case. Call back, I’m told, if I see the dog turn up at the junkyard again.
At dinner last night, my husband said, ‘how lucky we are to have so much food.’ I asked where his comment came from, because we were talking about something different. ‘It’s all related,’ he said. He observed that I had refilled my wineglass; we were talking about the probability that this might be the last Thanksgiving for two of our friends, because of cancer; we remembered that it was at our home where another friend had celebrated their last Thanksgiving before dying from a heart attack. ‘Don’t tell anyone that,’ he teased ‘or nobody will come.’ All joking aside he recognized that we were blessed with the company of friends, family and we can gather and celebrate with plentiful of good food and spirits. He said, ‘just be aware.’
‘Awareness’ seems to be popping up in books I’ve been reading, conversations I’ve engaged in and in practicing something religiously like yoga and meditation. In metaphysical writings by Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and BKS Iyengar they describe awareness as the true self. It’s always there, but it is overshadowed by the eye of the ego, the one we identify with as “I am” this or that.
When I’m writing I’ve started to sift through the impulse of the words. Is it my ego expressing itself, or is it my consciousness (awareness) that’s speaking? I’ve been struggling with my identity since I quit my long-time career in a corporation. I wonder if I’m reconnecting to my truth or if I’m reassembling what I am. I’ve experimented with burning my ‘stream of consciousness’ writing based on the advice of John Rogers (of “Spiritual Warrior”). His idea is that ‘free-form writing (with a pen and paper) is a kinesthetic activity: The neural impulses from the fingers are sent back to the brain so that writing actually releases and records the patterns of the unconscious… called ‘beach balls’, those things we have suppressed for a long long time and have expended energy to keep under the surface.” Following the free-form writing then “do not read it over. Rip up what you have written and burn it”. He recommends not to read over and look for the beautiful writing bits, because the energy and negativity released onto the paper can return to you if you reread it.
I tried this exercise of free-form writing and burning it up, and it wasn’t easy to do the second part. I’ve been journaling since I was a teenager, and I’ve hauled my collection of notepads and diaries in different shapes and sizes wherever I’ve camped. I thought about Anais Nin’s diaries and wondered if she had ever considered or experimented with burning her writing. When I’m doing stream of consciousness writing it’s a lot of crap that comes out. Often, I’ve come to accept, that I write to normalize my mind, body and spirit. It’s all these parts of me that are competing for self-expression without fear of judgement. Writing is an exploration and not necessarily the truth of what is. It’s a process of seeking out the truth.
I remember two occasions when someone invaded my privacy by reading my journals on two separate occasions. The first was when I was breaking up with my first husband. He tore the red hard-covered journal from my hands and looked for ‘evidence’. The evidence being my thoughts. The other occasion of invasion of my privacy was when I asked a friend to clean up the hard drive of my Sony Vaio and he came upon some stream of consciousness writing. When I came back from Japan my ‘friend’ was cool and distant towards me. It was much later in the relationship he divulged reading my writing. I tried to explain to him that it was just stream of consciousness stuff – things I’m working out.
Anyways, I’m still on the bench as to the validity of ‘truth’ in free-form (‘stream of consciousness’) writing. It’s a dance between my ego and my awareness. It’s all of me that is coming together to confer what is the truth. This truth can shift based on the parameters at hand. It’s very much aligned to the principles of the physics of quantum mechanics and relativity. There is truth in both sides of the argument. The shift of which is truer than the other is the degree of awareness. I can be convinced that your argument against mine is allowable based on how illumined my mind is to your perspective. And this can happen on your side of the camp where your awareness shifts and you can say ‘you’ve got a point’.
I’ll tie this all up with a link to a Youtube video of a song written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David. By the way, I was so lucky to have the opportunity to watch Burt Bacharach perform his music live at UCLA last summer. The guy is a legend whose music spans 6 decades and he’s still writing cool tunes. The song “Be Aware” was written to be sung by Barbara Streisand, but I like Dionne Warwick’s version better. Here it is: “Be Aware” written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David; sung by Dionne Warwick
When the sun is warm where you are
And it’s comfortable and safe where you are
Well it’s not exactly that way
Somewhere in the world
Someone is cold, be aware.
And while you’re feeling young
Someone is old, be aware.
And while your stomach is full
Somewhere in this world
Someone is hungry
when there is so much
should anyone be hungry?
When there’s laughter all around me
and my family embraces surround me
If I seem to be forgetful
Somewhere in the world
People are weak, be aware.
And while you speak your mind
Others can’t speak, be aware.
And while your children sleep
Somewhere in this world
The child is homeless
When we have so much
Should any child be homeless?
The best temperature to heat milk to is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the optimal temperature for ‘milking’ the flavor out of the moo juice, because it’s when the sugar (lactose) has been broken down to the simple sugars of sucrose & glucose. To go higher in temperature breaks down the sugar further to its less than sweetest point. Milk also has fat and protein. The temperature rising breaks down the chains of protein molecules which can either blend with the melted fat or go out into the air to escape the water. Have you noticed the rim of bubbles as the milk goes up in temperature – and if you happened to turn away during the critical moment – the whole thing inflates like a hyperbole’d soufflé.
So it was at 2 this morning when I decided to make hot chocolate after the dog woke me up with its pacing to let me know it needs to go out. I’ve been an addict of hot cocoa lately. It’s just a phase (I think) with the weather being cold and the season getting festive. I was contemplating adding a splash of Cointreau into my cocoa. Then my mind wandered about the transformative property of heat as I waited for the magic. I whipped the milk with the chocolate, played with the temperature knob impatient to have my cocoa.
My writing can be impatient too. I want magic without the work of blood and guts. In writing the journey is about the transformation. I write because I’m curious about something. In my exploration I can transform my perspective. In story telling the journey is a transformative experience for both the writer and the audience with the vehicle of change being the plot, the characters and the process. In cooking it’s also the cast of the ingredients and the process of applying the heat that transforms everything into a magical melange.
Heat isn’t just a physical property. There’s heat when there’s interaction between the two sexes. There’s heat when there’s a debate between opposing camps. Heat transforms life. Without the light and warmth of the sun there wouldn’t be life on the third rock from the sun. Another concept of heat is used in yoga. “Tapas” (not the delightful Spanish word for appetizer or snack) is a Sanskrit word meaning “to burn”, originating from “tap”. There are yogic breathing exercises that uses bodily locks (akin to lifting the pelvic floor like Kegel exercises) to burn impurities in the body. Tapas is a philosophy dictated in the yoga bible, Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. It is through tapas – the fiery discipline, passion and courage – that impurities can be burned off physically, mentally and emotionally to regenerate life like nature’s wisdom of forest fires to recycle and give new life to the earth.
“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar
Here’s another example of heat… Check out this solo from Monte Montgomery with his song “All On Men”. He’s cooking something soulful on his Alvarez guitar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KiUnGVOY1A ; at around the 5 minute mark of this video he turns up the heat. Watching an artist unleash that passion in his instrument is transformative. It makes me aspire to that height; it makes me want to be in the presence of the guitar god like him. I believe this is one of the attractions of going to live performances because its transformative to be part of the magic making. It’s the reason we also gather for rituals of the holidays because it renders the ordinary to extraordinary; a meal isn’t just something to get through. It’s the preparation and the celebration of life which renders it holy and sacred.
A gathering of bodies generates heat. Friction generates heat. Zeal and passion is heat. In what seams like the bleak and lifeless cold of winter there’s heat in the DNA of the trees that knows to “turn on” when the conditions are just right. So how do I turn on the heat in my writing? The question contains the answer – Patanjali’s sage advice is to tap, tap, tap on the keyboard through discipline, passion and courage. This practice of discipline, passion and courage is love. The secret to good cooking is love; and the love of doing what we do is what transforms something good into something soulful that aspires our spirit to align to our highest self.
But first, another sip of hot cocoa with a dash of Cointreau.
Knowledge. Word play of know and ledge. Knowing is being on the ledge to go beyond the limit. It is the edge. I have this strong fascination of Phillippe Petit’s high wire act of 1974 when he honored the calling to walk on the wire tied between the Twin Towers of NYC. What was and is the inherent capacity in him that sleeps dormant in many of us? The artist within is awaiting for the birth of creativity, “The Birth of Cool” a la Miles Davis. We’re all capable of doing something capricious and daring, to rise to our most audacious potential. What knowledge within us lies dormant? What’s keeping me asleep?
The clock on the bottom right corner of my laptop reads 4:34 AM. The page is framed by the edges of the screen. The Operating System is Windows. Windows have frames. Windows are portals to the other side. The scariest thing is going to the other side and not having a return to the familiar frame of mind: seeing someone we love differently, or an enemy as a friend, or home some place we can’t go back to anymore.
For Phillippe, the Twin Towers were probably no longer the Goliaths towering awesomely into the clouds. After he was forced by the men in blue to get off that wire, I bet he was still walking in air when he was back on his feet on ground zero. On a clear night from his backyard, Neil Armstrong probably looked at the moon very differently after he had walked on its surface in 1969. He said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When an employee tenders a letter of resignation to her boss, especially when the boss never thought the employee was capable of quitting, there is that humungous leap and change of perception on both sides of the table. We both let go of that boss-employee relationship. Though the umbilical cord of security of a regular paycheck, benefits and routine was severed, I found a lightness in my being. My breath is easy. My mind is expanded. I feel free.
I’ve been struggling this week to write a blog. Mostly because my life was consumed by the responsibility of passing down what I know and what I do to the successor of my old job. Also, I’m experiencing a rainbow of emotions born from a spectrum of thoughts – from the ultra-violet aura of spirituality (the 7th chakra) to the infra red glow of survival instincts (the 1st chakra). I walk the duality of being human. In between the 1st and 7th chakras is the 4th chakra which is the heart center. What my heart told me was it was time to move forward to the next phase of my life journey.
My boss was delighted that the transition has been one of the easiest she’s known. “Really?” I said. I know of a situations when someone packed up their things on a Friday evening and sent an email of quitting then left their pass key behind and walked away for good. I’ve walked in the shoes of someone who had to draw out the knowledge and practice from someone leaving the company and the person was reticent to convey what they know, because of a grudge. There was also the time when another person exposed their dissolution and bitterness in their exit interview. I sense that the HR person did not check the box “Rehire”.
Yes, “Really”. There is a range of going to the edge when leaving behind a job. I am conscientious to do a good job of teaching and training someone what I know because inherently, I’m a teacher. I don’t do it because it’s polite and gracious, but it’s who I am. I couldn’t leave anyone behind in a lurch or without a rope no matter how well or poorly the relations had been. In the end its better to err on the generous side than on the stingy side, because the path I choose would be what I am at the moment and that precipitates what I will be. My state of mind now is what my state of being will be.
My old job is like my old habit that I will stop wearing, like a nun leaving behind the habit of her convent or even an ex-convict, reformed, having done time. There is a beautiful quote from an interview I heard on the radio. A soprano singer described the suffering of a character as a cleansing of the soul.
That is an edge for me. The edge of being aware of who I am now. Mindfulness of the states of consciousness of my being. Projecting my future by my thoughts now. I’m not a high wire artist, though I am longing to be aloft and experiencing the high. The closest I’ve been to that state was hiking to the peak of a mountain. It’s so much work getting there and the body produces endorphins that gives that “high” feeling. Though the descent from the top can be tougher than the ascent, it’s part of what could be a pernicious journey. Any trip worthy of growth and evolution has the price of danger and loss of the original self. In Joseph Campbell’s analysis of the hero’s call to adventure the possibilities are: Sacred Marriage, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, Elixir Theft. For me it is Apotheosis.
What I have learned these past 4 months during my yoga teacher training is that yoga is not only about the poses (asana in Sanskit). Yoga is a practice, and like other practices every day is different. The regularity of the practice varies from person to person. What you put into the practice is what you’ll get out of the practice. I am almost near the finish line of this yoga teacher training journey. I wish I could honestly say it was a good journey in that I am coming though it with a happier perspective, but instead I am coming through with a broader perspective and disillusionment.
Los Angeles has grown to be a yoga mecca outside of India. If you google the studios that have proliferated in the Los Angeles area in the past recent years you might see a concentration of studios have budded and matured mostly in the west side. It has grown into a glamorous industry far away from the grass roots yoga images and institutions from where it was birthed. There’s aerial yoga, water yoga, pre-natal yoga, maybe one day yoga flavored ice cream. There’s even a social justice motivated yoga where I studied for my training.
My earliest practical experience of yoga was in a Bikram studio in Vancouver. I really liked it, and practiced yoga regularly there and also here in Los Angeles. Then my practice became dormant while I explored other parts of myself with acting, writing and music. All these other traditions take time so yoga fell off my radar. To revitalize my interest in it I chose to enroll for 200 hour teacher training for myself, without any immediate intention to teach yoga. In my enthusiastic haste to embark on this project the studio I chose to study was the one closest to where I lived in South Central Los Angeles. The cost was reasonable compared to other places offering 200 hour teacher training and the schedule was workable for me.
The course material is Yoga Alliance approved which is what most students would like to do as it gives their training credibility should they choose to audition and teach at a studio. The 13 weekends spent with my fellow classmates covered material from the basic asanas, yoga history, anatomy, ayuvedric nutrition and the different styles of yoga (kundalini, Iyengar, hatha, vinyasa, etc.) There was one module on social justice which was a very difficult class because of the discussions that came up. The primary divisor between the students was the topic of race. The subtlety of yoga is that people are drawn to it for a variety of reasons, but most of what I learned is that people were drawn to yoga for its healing aspects. A professional doctor or therapist may have prescribed to “try yoga” to alleviate an injury from an accident or to help someone manage stress and depression.
What can happen in a yoga class for those unsuspecting of its deep tension releasing asanas and “breathing into that space” is it can bring up emotions related to trauma that has been buried in the tissues of the body. This can happen with deep stretch poses that opens up the hip area. This is the part of our anatomy where we carry the most weight of our traumas related to family and our relationships with others. It is the area of the first or root chakra, and also the second chakra (our creativity). During the eleventh week of our class, the module social justice started with a brief apology from the instructor for not having more people of color teach other modules. The reason was yoga is a new practice that have mostly been learned and taught by white culture.
There’s already an inherent risk in raising a differentiating factor by using a person’s color. What surprised me most was yoga does not differentiate in any form – not color, not age, not body type, not socio-economic reasons, not religion. Certainly yoga is not always affordable and someone curious or really intent on practicing yoga in a shared environment would need to dig to find “free yoga” or “yoga by donation”. They do exist, and there are more and more of these places available. Some students began to rattle names of people of color who are qualified to teach yoga. Then the instructor further explained that the experts she brought in offered their teaching and time for free.
I asked people in the class to clarify what “people of color” meant to them. I have my idea of what it means to me, but I wanted people to express and hear for themselves what they were thinking and saying. The answer most commonly said was that “people of color” meant not-white. When I looked at the ratio of the people that answered vehemently on describing the expression, my observation was they were also the people in the class who seemed to live in their vocabulary of woundology. It is a word created by Carolyn Myss (a medical intuitive, author of “Anatomy of the Spirit” and “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can” http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/myss-heal.html).
“Woundology is the tendency to insistently hold on to old traumas. You define yourself by your hurts, not by your strengths, and there in those hurts you stay stuck forever.” – Source (Victor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy in Israel. He is the author of a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He was a neurologist and psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor.)
Of the 14 students in the class there was only one non-person-of-color and I will call her Wendy. Wendy bravely spoke out on her views and feelings. I’ve observed her to be a sincere and loving person, and I knew where she was coming from when she said that she does not see people of color, because she sees people by their behavior. I get it when she said that. I am reminded of song by George Brassen called “Quand On Est Con”. The message of the song is when you’re a jerk you’re a jerk (When you were a zygote you were a jerk, and when you were a kid you were a jerk, and when you’re old, you’re still a jerk.) It’s funny and it’s not funny which makes it even funnier to me the way life is (and I’m probably the only one laughing.)
The responses towards Wendy included “well, if you don’t see people of color then you don’t really see me.” It went as far as the teacher admonishing to her that as white women it was their responsibility to teach others about this lack of awareness in society. I was taken aback by this landslide of peoples’ emotions and lack of discrimination between emotion and reason. What I saw was an alienation of someone who had been part of the group from the beginning that was coming to its end. The woman’s eyes welled with tears. I spoke up. I said “Wait. Whatever happened to personal choice? What about respecting peoples’ capacities? It’s my personal choice whether or not I turn on the TV. I don’t like it when people shove their beliefs and ideology down my throat. I came here to learn about yoga and not talk about politics.” Someone rebutted passionately with “Yoga is everything!” And that response made me see that there were many wounds in the midst of the students. I’m not immune to wounds. I’ve had snowballs thrown in my face as a dark skinned islander in the midst of a mostly white community in Northern Alberta. I’ve been beaten and called “chink” and “china man”. There are other wounds too, but I’m not going to bring them into a yoga teacher training environment. People came to this class for a different purpose.
I consulted privately with others in the class after that event. Some agreed that the topic should not have been brought up, especially to those unsuspecting. Racial discrimination issues in this city is not an easy topic and it should be facilitated with thought and finesse. One black student gently reproached me for standing up for a white woman. I thought hmm? I stood up for a human being – one of us who belongs in that class like anyone else. Wendy resolutely pressed on till the last class of the course. That class was spent at the beach. Near the end of the day as we packed our things I gladly ran to my motorcycle to put my things away and dress in my riding gear. As I walked back to the group for a group photo by the water’s edge I saw Wendy walking towards the parking lot. When I asked her what happened she tearfully said, “I’m so done with this class. I can’t even say anything without someone making a case of it.” She explained that she said she needed to get out of the sun soon, otherwise she would turn purple like an eggplant. One person in the class told her that it was a derogatory remark. I wasn’t there to hear this and watch whatever happened unfold, but the result it exactly the opposite of what yoga is supposed to mean – “Union”.
If you’ve tried yoga, a good teacher will begin the class by asking students of injuries or pain that need to be addressed, so that the teacher can offer a modification to a pose to make it gentler or simply to ask the student to refrain from doing a pose that could aggravate the injury. The point is to take care of oneself. So another characteristic I would add to yoga is self-reliance. We all have built in capacities for survival. Unfortunately, some of us may have been exposed to harmful environments that suppressed that natural instinct. I believe that yoga is a tool that can be used as a practice to learn self-reliance to give our mind, body and spirit the vitality to enjoy life. One of the virtues spoken in the bible of yoga “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali is ahimsa.
“Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.” (source Wikepedia)
I am grateful for what I have learned in this journey to become a yoga teacher. Learning does have a price and over time I hope that everyone in my yoga teacher training class, will heal. The process will make us all better teachers. We can begin with practicing ahimsa.
I can pick from so many things to write about and I want to see it all related and tied together like how Einstein tried to formulate the equation that represents the universe. He had this notion of a Unified Field of Theory – aka Theory of Everything (TOE).
A unified field theory would reconcile seemingly incompatible aspects of various field theories to create a single comprehensive set of equations. Such a theory could potentially unlock all the secrets of nature and make a myriad of wonders possible, including such benefits as time travel and an inexhaustible source of clean energy, among many others. According to Michio Katu, a theoretical physicist at City College, City University of New York, those in pursuit of a unified field theory seek “an equation an inch long that would allow us to read the mind of God.”
As a writer I need to see the relationships of everything. To me, these relationships give meaning to existence.
I am proposing my Theory of Everything to be a cup.
I was inspired last year to write a poem about a cup. I never wrote the poem, but like one of those inspirations that is shelved and left alone to collect dust – it lingered and fell from out of the blue.
The expression arrived in the form of a sympathy card that I wrote to a friend for the loss of her mother last January. I couldn’t focus on my work until I had found the card, signed it and sent it. It’s funny how a deep inspiration just nags when it’s been put off for so long.
I walked to the coffee shop of an office building. This coffee shop is a gem. It is located at the back of the former Variety building on Wilshire (across from LACMA). What makes it a treasure for me is their espresso machine. There is not one coffee shop within a 10-15 minute walking distance of the office that serves the delights of an espresso machine. They also have a substantial collection of greeting cards and magazines. On days when I want to tune out for a little while I go to the coffee shop and just day dream over a latte with 3 espresso shots.
That day I went to find a sympathy card, but I could not find any. The next best choice was a decorative card without words. The most generic card I chose was a graphic design of 5 cups stacked on top of one another. Back in my office I stared at the blank space and thought of what I wanted to say. I remember writing something to the effect of “… her life was well lived. Her lips kissed pressed upon the rims of cups from which she drunk the rainbow of life’s experiences: beauty, joy, pain and suffering…” I imagined her mother drinking cups of coffee or tea in her different moods, whether alone or with company and in different places.
Think of the times you caressed the surface of your favorite cup as your thoughts drifted and the aroma of your coffee or herbal tea infused your sense of smell. That moment is imprinted in your heart. I know it, because I can remember that feeling, that moment when I inhaled then exhaled. That pause in your day was shared with the cup. That pause happens like the periods in our day when we take a break.
My mug at work has a deep brown stain along the waterline. It is brown from the tannins of the tea and oils from the coffee. I surprise myself at how I don’t bother to rub away the stain with some special cleaner or just elbow grease. Some people would probably shirk away from using my cup. Good. Stay away from it. It’s my cup and it’s my theory of everything.