It’s Up To My Head

If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,
All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.
All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [our wild and uncontrolled emotions];
All the keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,
All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind.
And by the taming of that one mind, all are subdued.
Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows.

Eight-century Buddhist master Shantideva, as quoted in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

My head-space has been in a less than joyful mood for some time. I’m cynical beyond words that complete happiness is within my grasp let alone anyone’s.  I force snippets of laughter and silliness into my days in an effort to create bliss out of thin air. It’s probably the way it is for most folks and truthfully, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not knocking it one bit; any way one can get a modicum of bliss in a day is better than finding absolutely none.

Still, the difficulties of this past year are not quite what I expected following our move out of middle-earth. I realize joy is entirely within my hands and my hands alone but for heaven’s sake, I’m thoroughly annoyed that drama-filled days still seem to define my life! Harrumph.

I honestly believed those days were behind me with the passing of my mother (may she rest in peace). God seems to have other plans for me. I suppose the intent of it all falls under the umbrella of that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

So, in an effort to get control of this messy head-space of mine I’ve turned to just that: HEADSPACE.

HEADSPACE

That would be the meditation app that claims to have over six million people using the app just last year. In the App store it has over fifty-eight thousand resounding thumbs up.

I first heard mention of this meditation and mindfulness training app last year (or so) in the Wall Street Journal. I barely gave it a passing notice since I was trying to go the do-it-on-my-own route, and because (the actual reason) after the first 10 free days, it’s an expensive subscription. Meditation has been a difficult practice for me to wrap my head around. I tried to start in earnest two years ago when life was inordinately stressful due to the challenges with mom. I managed to get myself up to a solid five minutes on most days of the week before fidgeting began. Everything went on the back burner, including yoga, for a plethora of reasons excuses.

So here I am today. With the return of my son, now flat-broke and living in my basement (for a spell), I am teetering on the edge of a balance beam, every fiber of my being shaking as I threaten to topple over. I used to be able to handle life stressors when I was a long-distance runner. There is nothing like a trail run on a crisp autumn day to melt one’s cares away…..

Sigh. Cannot do that anymore.

So, plan B (or is it plan D about now?)…

Get a teensy-weensy bit more serious about a meditation practice…but this time with a little help from the digital world.

The genius behind HEADSPACE, Andy Puddicombe and his business partner Rich Pierson, just may be the ticket to more joy in these stressful days.  Andy’s soothing UK voice has lulled me out of anxiousness for three days straight.  I’m back up to five minutes of guided meditation and hopeful for ten before my free trial is up.  At this writing, I’m contemplating jumping in with both feet into a year-long subscription.  Still dealing with the stress of a second mortgage, I’ll even cut back on my Starbucks indulgence in order to fund the taming of my head-space.

Ahead of the holidays, there is hope indeed for more joy-filled moments.

It’s all in my hands…and up to my head.

Haven’t Got A Clue…..

There is a community of the spirit.

Join in, and feel the delight

Of walking in the noisy street,

And being the noise.

…..close both eyes,

To see with the other eye.

Open your hands,

If you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

The shepherd’s love filling you.

Excerpt:  A Community Of The Spirit by Rumi

In the quiet of this morning, my second cup of espresso grows cold as I read a page or two out of a collection of poems by the Sufi poet, Rumi.  The words above catch my attention.  I haven’t even finished the poem in its entirety!

I get it:  I need to get out of my current head space which is bogged down with a million and one worries.  Perhaps I should cast all expectations out the window… though that would be damned near impossible at this writing.

I look out at the still-dark sky and reflect on what to do next. I don’t have answers…In fact, I haven’t got a clue.   What is certain though is this: This time, I am not alone as I walk through hot coals yet again. This time there is a life-line of sorts. Sis and family won’t let moss grow under these tired bones, no siree!

So, yesterday officially marked sixty years on this planet. The day began with an exuberant hug by a nine-year-old carrying a bouquet of flowers and a musical birthday card.  Kool & The Gang’s Celebration made me dance a jig across my kitchen floor. The Poodle jumped up in confused delight to the racket of his human love.  Perhaps my nephew thought: What silliness!  I’m not sure.  I do know that a degree of silliness will be the only way to navigate uncharted territory.  What could that be? you might ask.

A thirty-five year old son returning home, indigent.  A train wreck of seemingly limited possibilities, at this moment at least.

God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, right?

Sigh.

He needs to sit down in the circle; smack dab in the middle of it I say!  He needs to give it all up to a higher power.  He needs to quiet his mind long enough to truly feel the love (both tough and gentle)  of those who want to help him find a better path in this life.  He needs to be open to the heavy task of change in front of him.

Alas, my man-child appears not to be ready for any of this.    The reality of this cuts deeply.  My heart is heavy and weariness overwhelms.  It significantly impairs any excitement that I can muster for entering a new decade.

I mustn’t lose hope. I must not quit. Not yet anyway!

Never lose hope….never quit.

I must keep the home fires burning one way or the other.

Prayers appreciated.

 

Shredding, Shredded…Gone?


I’ve been back in middle-earth-land for a week.  I needed time in my own bed….in my own abode….even for a few days.  It’s been quiet and lovely.  I’ve caught up with friends, read some, and cleared (mostly) a bunch of DVR recordings.   I’ve also shredded most of my life. Letters and cards, obsolete paperwork, email communications that I had printed a gazillion moons ago, and old legal correspondence too.  

As I leafed through stacks of stuff I had pulled from plastic bins and file folders—the good, bad and the ugly stuff—my heart was heavy.  Sure, there were happy sentiments amongst it all which brought tears to my eyes, like cards from my children with smiley faces, Crayola-colored hearts, and “I love you Mommy” written in that quirky penmanship so characteristic of little ones.  But there was ugliness too:  Words on paper that cut deeper than any blade could…baggage much too heavy to carry….all thrown into plastic bins, saving them….for God knows what?

Why have I been holding on to all this negative shit for so long?  

I can’t tell you how many times the shredder shut down because it was over-heated.  But now the deed has been done.  Years worth of my life shredded to itty-bitty bits.  Cathartic?  Yes, to a degree.  The words and sentiments of some of those shredded pieces of paper are still with me, stinging…hurting, perhaps until I take my last breath.  Fear not though…. as always, I’m a work- in-progress on that.   Shredding was a huge step, wouldn’t you agree?  Truthfully…I feel lighter already!   I think of a saying by the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi, that I happened to read just the other day:

To arrive at clear water, one must first shovel through mud.


So peeps, It’s been raining steadily since the wee hours of the morning.  Though we are far north of the state we are catching some of the wicked weather system that has already claimed the life of a young boy on the short strip of Alabama coastline.  In the words of American Clergyman John Shelby Spong, “Mother Nature is not sweet.”  

Tomorrow we head back to our temporary living arrangement as we continue to wait for this house to sell.  We will have eleven hours in the car to contemplate everything and nothing.  And yes… I’ll be blissfully happy to see my four-legged love….among other things.  

OM…Grunt…Punch

Since I left Southern California I’ve somewhat fallen off the yoga wagon…just a wee bit mind you.  No cause for alarm…nothing serious!    In my defense, its been easy to do.  Living in California, I was less than five miles from a lovely yoga studio, YogaWorks. I was lucky to be a member of YogaWorks for well over two years.  I say lucky because my membership was truly a luxury as I also belonged to a wonderful gym that had every piece of equipment known to man plus all the group exercise classes (including yoga) and a great pool as well.  Not only were/are the YogaWorks teachers excellent and classes varied enough to appeal to any level, but the environment was so esthetically pleasing and soothing to the soul with its bamboo floors, tranquil wall colors and a beautiful wall-mounted fountain from which water cascaded down in a calming fashion from the ceiling to the floor collecting into a small pool.  I loved sitting in the lobby before class; the sounds of the falling water mixed with melodious Indian or peaceful new wave music….sipping on unique blends of tea or iced lemon water while waiting for the yoga studio doors to open.  I even liked watching sweaty, and sometimes sleepy-eyed people exit their class …they’d pour out into the lobby and OOH and AH about how great the class was….how wonderful they felt; such a camaraderie amongst so many people who came together to learn, to enhance their practice and ultimately quiet themselves, if only for ninety minutes, before going back to the chaos that often comprised the rest of their day.

My first yoga experience began nine years ago with a teacher that taught in a corporate setting. It was a one-hour class tailored for the lunch crowd corporate folks (I wasn’t one of them… simply the spouse of one).    I’ll admit to being reticent about yoga at first….I’d seen enough on T.V. (or in magazines); those emaciated men, heads wrapped in a turban, their limbs wrapped around their necks, chanting unintelligible words…that was decidedly not for me.  But yoga teacher Lou turned out to be the perfect person to nudge me on to the yogic path.  I had no idea that she would become my “guru” of sorts and I’m eternally grateful; she has turned out to be a great teacher and friend, and yes…sometimes a mother.  She even nudged me ever so subtly into a 200-hour yoga teacher training.  It took a lot of convincing mind you; it was not in the budget and I was paralyzed with fear over the thought of actually teaching yoga.  But she, along with my husband and the teacher trainers themselves convinced me that the goal of a teacher training does not have to be teaching (who knew?)….it is quite simply a path to learning more about the ancient practice and deepening my own yoga experience.  Whew….that was a relief!  With the pressure off to becoming a yoga teacher I got through the training, certificate in hand and yes…still decided that teaching yoga wasn’t in my immediate future.  I’d taught aerobics years before.  I’d gotten the group exercise certification and taught aerobic classes for two years and that burned the fire right out of me.  Teaching yoga is an entirely different animal, if you will, than teaching aerobics.  I knew I’d have to keep taking loads of teacher trainings, seminars and workshops in order to feel confident and competent enough to teach a really good class.  I’m fine with that….and who knows….maybe….later….even in another life…I’ll travel down that path. All is good….

This brings me back to now.

My mat awaits....

My mat awaits….

Why haven’t I consistently maintained my practice after the move to middle earth?  I’m struggling to answer that question.   Maybe it’s because there are less than a handful of places to practice here and one has to drive a fair distance to get to a class.  There is a tiny studio one mile from my house but its Bikram (hot) yoga and I’ve no interest in practicing yoga in a 105-degree studio.  It’s hot and humid enough outside that just walking to my mailbox I feel I am getting the Bikram experience.  In fact, last year we suffered through three weeks straight of 105-degree temps (another reason I give the moniker “middle earth” to this here place where I live.  I figure it is more positive than saying I live in HELL all the time, right?!)   And,  I did attend one class with friend Lou when she was visiting (actually, it was a Pilates class) but the class and the locale just didn’t resonate at the time; I was too fresh from moving to a place I didn’t want to be to give it a chance I suppose.  Rest assured, I am not ruling out a second or third go of it.  I’m moving like a turtle with regards to all things Alabamian.

Fortunately I am able to use a terrific resource: on-line yoga classes.  After my last class at YogaWorks I tearfully hugged my favorite yoga teacher Jorge and explained what was happening; I was moving to God-awful Alabama and from the looks of it there were only a couple of yoga studios…and no YogaWorks.  “Can you imagine that?” I cried. “I need to practice in a class environment Jorge…I’m just not disciplined enough to go it alone.”    Jorge hugged me, patted me on the back and said “Sweetie…it’s going to be all right…really.  So here is what you’ll have to do…..”  With that, he wrote yogaglo.com on a piece of paper.  “This is a site where you can take yoga classes on-line.  You can even try it out for two weeks free.”  I was very skeptical about the whole thing but I was desperate enough during the move to try it;  I did not want to lose the connection to my physical (albeit aging) self…nor  did I want to lose the most important part of what a regular practice was providing me…. a deeper spirituality…. a more meaningful connection with myself and God.
So…since moving to middle earth (over a year now) I have been taking classes on-line.  I’ll swear it really is like being in a yoga studio.  Almost.  Still, my practice has been haphazard and just the other day I figured out a possible reason…one which, obviously, I must overcome if I am to get back into a regular practice.  I’m alone.   It’s easy to be in a pose and then stop to answer the phone….or go to the bathroom and then never get back to the mat!  Once I was in the middle of a head stand and decided I wanted to break for a handful of almonds.  I didn’t get back to the mat.  So…  No one is around.  It’s just me.  Well…almost; there is the poodle.  He’s often laying by my yoga mat when I try to practice.  It never fails;  I think poodle is fast asleep (even snoring) but in an instant he thinks its time to play…after all, I am often down on all-fours when I’m in cat-cow pose or downward facing dog.  Poodle is awake in a flash.  He wags his tail, his tongue hanging to one side of his mouth which is open in what looks to be a smile….He drops his squeaky red ball complete with slobber on to the mat as if to say “I’m ready!  Yippee….let’s play!”  I try to put poodle in another room but then he whines.  Instead of breathing Ujjayi I’m cursing at the poodle.  Not good….sigh.

(On a positive note, I was able to practice yesterday….poodle apparently still dog-tired from a weekend of playing.  He didn’t move a muscle for my entire session.  Bliss.

Pink gloves...only color I could find.

Pink gloves…only color I could find.

In the end, it seems I need to be around people…in a more structured environment to keep me honest on the mat.   I’ve got to find a balance between on-line yoga and something else.  So, I’ve recently tried a yoga class at my gym.  The teacher was OK  but she was so shockingly thin that I just could not look at her…not to mention the southern drawl so thick that I could barely contain a giggle.  Clearly, I’ve got to keep looking or give in to the  drawl of “So now get to your Ujjayi breath y’all.”  I’ve also started taking a heavy punch bag class.  What? you say!  Indeed!   It’s a physical practice on another planet…diametrically opposite from a yoga practice.  Om, Shanti, Om mantra and Ujjayi breathing versus grunt, grunt, jab punch, jab, and literally kicking the stuffing out of a heavy punch bag.  That said, all that grunting and punching is helping me through this transition to middle earth, as well getting me through continuing heartbreak and angst over family issues.  It’s easy to put an image to the bag and get it ALL out…on the bag!   It’s all good….really!    Om, Shanti on some days….grunt and punch on other days.  That’s my balance….for now….and it’s working.

It’s a bliss I can live with.