I could have danced all night…

10 years ago, after my youngest entered school full-time, I took a major detour in my exploration of new career possibilities.

Rather than enroll in a Masters Program in Organization and Development in New Hampshire, or in a vigorous life-coaching mentorship out of Colorado, and in lieu of resentfully renewing my lapsed teaching license in Vermont, I showed up at a place called Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts–to dance.

130 accredited hours later, I was a newly minted Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, something I could barely admit to friends when they asked about my unusual time away from home and family.

That single detour set me on a course of detours, so that ten years later, I’m still winging it, flying and fumbling my way forward “from the inside out” as I’ve grown fond of saying.

During this decade of detours, I earned my 200 hour yoga teaching certification, crafted an online writing journey through the chakras, and frequently returned to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I assist leading presenters.

Now’s a good time to admit that all these detours were an attempt to avoid (and covertly bolster) what was truly calling me–a desire to write–which led to a companion desire–to create as much space around the writing as possible–apart from mothering/partnering/homemaking and earning some semblance of an income. Quite a dance!

But as feared, the more I immersed in writing, the less I desired anything else, until this moment when all my desires have whittled down to one: to finish the book that I began in 2012 while assisting a non-profit that took me to Chile and Japan and brings me annually to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nationsopportunities which I’ve let wither on the vine of an increasingly singular focus.

What has also whittled down, in parallel form, is my income.

While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to increasingly earn in creative and life-giving ways; this is often accompanied by angst around rising household expenses and the fear of not earning/being/doing “enough.”

And yet, after much inner struggle, I came into a place of surrender this summer, softening into my deepening commitment to the book as if it were a daughter, and into the limited income that caring for her affords me.

Out of this clarity came the decision to simplify my income–to two parallel offerings a season–one in writing and one in dance–two wings to support my own journey and that of others.

Ironically, my hard-earned clarity was met by my husband’s who shared that he was ready for me to make more money, three times as much in fact.

We laughed at the synchronicity.

After the laughter, was the nitty-gritty. I zeroed in on the necessity of retiring one role (Motherhood) before landing the next; and so we sat down with the budget and made it work with a commitment to adhering to it more diligently; because after all hadn’t we managed to make ends meet in much leaner times when the kids were little and he was a new teacher.

With this commitment and clarity was met with Autumn’s back-to-school energy, I renewed by daily work on the book, and as a result, I experienced a growing sense of self-trust and possibility, both of which had waned as a result of inner conflict.

Meanwhile, I set to filling my fall sessions, which fortunately are the easiest to fill at this time of year.

After some initial sluggishness, my online writing journey was fully enrolled; while enrollment in the dancing journey stalled; and remained stalled, even as the starting date grew closer and closer; and my anxiety grew larger and larger.

Over the past decade, the dance has become an integral part of my own health, and my commitment and connection to community, not to mention a creative outlet for that part of me who is teacher, crafting  music, movement and chakras in a conscious flow.

But faced with an unsustainable enrollment at a time when sustainability was key, I had to make a choice.

Suddenly, the point of the audio book that I ordered over the summer came into sharper focus. In Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer introduces a form of guidance that reveals itself: When way closes.

Was way closing on dance for me? After ten years? Could I let it? Couldn’t I try harder? Certainly I could bring the dance to one of the surrounding towns who had long asked for me to do the same…

I fretted. I gave one last effort. I meditated.

This morning I refunded the enrollments of a small handful of students who were ready to begin the dance this week.

In doing so, I felt a surprising sense of relief and also a predictable measure of unfolding grief, tinged with old essences of embarrassment and shame.

In the meantime, I’ve crunched the numbers, only to discover that even the simplest of jobs will meet what I’ve earned nourishing consciousness with music and movement and writing.

The absurdity of my past efforts on this account is hard to bear in the black and white of a spreadsheet. But not in the light of the matching absurdity of devoting so much time to a book that no one is waiting to read–at least no one with a check to match the years of effort; not to mention the absurdity of laying down so much promise–professional and financial–to surrender my body and life–as home–to two splendid human beings–twenty-three years ago and counting.

What I realize only now, as I write, is that this letting go brings me back to the yogic principle that guided me as I first set out to lead the dance a decade ago: Ishvara Pranidhana.

So overcome was I with self-doubt and recrimination about my capacity to lead, not to mention the insanity of my detour from serious career pursuits, that each night, before the students arrived, I was forced to bow my head on my mat–in full surrender–Ishvara Pranidhana–offering up my failures and successes.

This same surrender is required now.

I could have danced all night, yes, but instead, I’ll return to the classifieds, seeking a fit for an increasingly un-fittable woman who is ready to accept the ease of income, in devotion to the calling that she cannot refuse.

 

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It doesn’t have to be so hard…

I begin my day in the dark, waking long before dawn, leaving behind my dormitory bunk for a room called Shadowbrook at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

The sky is still dark an hour later when Shadowbrook fills with Let Your Yoga Dance teacher trainees who take their place on mats in front of me.

Me?
What am I doing here?
How am I the one on the dais?

At 6:30 am, we begin the practice of yoga, the last class before their graduation.  After centering, I guide them in a series of warming poses, at which point I look down to see that in my rush to get dressed in the dark, I grabbed the wrong top, and the one I’m wearing allows my cleavage to spill out each time I bend in front of them.

In a wild act of incompetence (unimaginable in my previous incarnations) I ask: Could someone tie these straps to my bra?

And with that, the spell is broken–the one between me and them–as two women jump up to restore my modesty, and I step down off the dais.

“Kelly,” someone calls from the back, her voice freed, “Would you turn off the lights? The sun is about to rise.” (Others nod their approval.)

I walk the length of the room to the back of Shadowbrook, turn the dial, and then return through the rows of mats toward the platform.

Just before I step up, I turn to share something that I’ve only just realized: I feel so much better down here with you.

The students smile and tell me that it will be fine if I teach from the floor, “We can see you.”

I exhale, relieved, and guide them through a series of strengthening poses before inviting these brave warriors onto their backs, into the 4th chakra, the sweet pause–the heart of the Let Your Yoga Dance classes–that soon they’ll be leading in their hometowns around the country and abroad.

I return to the platform and bring my knees to my chest, and we roll toward one another,
breathing deeply, in and out, in and out.

In the sweet pause of breath, I see in them a sea of babies,
“A room full of Let Your Yoga Dance Instructors,” I say,
Ready to be born.”

Like soft bubbles rising from the mats, I hear giggles,
which slowly, then rapidly, swell across the belly of Shadowbrook,
and pop into a chorus of joyous release, until no one can hear or cares to hear my directions.

There are still giggles as we lift our legs into the air,
Happy Baby, while the sun lifts over the mountain
birthing this new day.

The last spell to be broken is the invitation to leave behind the mat and come to the front of the room where we gather in a circle, arms around each other’s backs, Virabhadrasana III, Warrior III–flying toward our destiny–and as we take in each other’s gaze, it’s as if we are flying in the sky, together, in mutual bliss.

I can’t remember what came next, not the inversion or Savasana, because when the class ended, Pam came from the back of the room to tell me what she now knew (and what we all long to remember):

“It doesn’t have to be so hard.”

After the last of the students thanked me and went off  to breakfast, I returned to my room, and changed my shirt, and lay down on my bunk, and pulled the curtain around me, and teared up, in raw humility, for my perfect imperfection.

I had wanted to be so much more, but I can only be myself.

Isvara Pranidhana.

The heart of devotion

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My life purpose journey brought me here. Though it took me months to place it. To name it.

The sensation seemed to occur whenever a student expressed her appreciation for how our time together touched her, particularly as she revealed gifts that I couldn’t have imagined or planned, let alone take credit for.

In response, an excruciating tenderness welled up inside, doused with so much humility that I found it almost unbearable.

I was back at Kripalu–the yoga center in Lenox, Massachusetts–when an understanding of this profound sensation began to take shape. I was among a large group of Let Your Yoga Dance trainees as they were invited, one by one, to come into the center of a circle and speak their intentions for the week, allowing these to be expressed through their bodies as well.

It was my first time assisting a training, but I took a turn too, and stepped inside, without knowing what would come…

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My head bowed. My spine bent like a flower kissing the earth; and a word came forth that surprised me:

Devotion

What did this mean?

To whom was I to be devoted?

To what?

I pondered this through that week. I had a sense that serving at Kripalu had something to do with the understanding.

When I arrived back home, my exploration of devotion was buried by life, until I prepared to return again several weeks later to assist the second half of the training.

This time, I was relieved to hold none of the angst or anxiety that accompanied the first assist, and yet my body didn’t seem to agree.

In the days leading up to my departure, blisters swelled at the corner of my mouth and at the end of the first evening back at Kripalu, I developed a full blown migraine, and it was still there when I woke before dawn the next morning, and was later accompanied by a large pimple on my chin and a red welt on my cheek.

Days later, I hurt my back in a simple restorative yoga posture.

SOMETHING was going on…

10308250_461359630662896_569786176148467051_nBut by the end of our week, my mind relaxed, as I was swept up in a current of sensation that music and movement and meditation brings.

The staff gathered together on the night before graduation and one by one we shared our appreciations for each other.

When it was my turn to acknowledge the instructor, I found myself without words or thoughts.

How was it possible that I had nothing to offer this woman whose work I had so long admired?

Megha Nancy Buttenheim, Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance
Megha Nancy Buttenheim,
Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance

I searched my mind and caught a glimpse of her earlier that day, sitting across from a student, in rapt attention, while the rest of us dashed off to lunch after a full morning of dance.

Megha looked like a child in that moment, and I recognized what I witnessed, and spoke this word in appreciation of her:

Devotion

The next morning, I stood beside a rose-petaled path that she had created on her hands and knees for the graduates.

While she ushered them across the threshold of the room one last time, the other assistants and I silently greeted them along the way, our hands in prayer.

Tears typically held inside, flowed freely down my face, in grace, so honored was I to help steward of each one of these new teachers who paused to acknowledge me on the path.

When we took our seats, and I watched as the diplomas were bestowed, my delight was so great that I tasted pure joy.

As the ceremony ended, the graduates asked the staff to sit before them at the front of the room, and I was unprepared for what came next…

10309510_10152520651623746_3264191283948952743_n 2Music began to play and the women formed a semi-circle in front of us, while a small group left the room and re-entered in a procession down the winding rose-petaled path, each bearing a basket in front of her heart.

One basket was placed into my lap, with a student bowing at my feet, as others called out appreciations in stereophonic bliss.

My hands remained at my heart, unable to move, as tears of recognition washed my face.

Life Hack~7 Years of Dancing: from 43 to 50

7 years ago, I experienced a life-hack that led to the past 7 years of dancing–with hundreds of women (men & children) from Southern Vermont & beyond. I share it now as testimony to risk and vulnerability and community and remembrance:

Me at 8
Me, before I forgot

Spring 2007

This spring my career path was seriously derailed when I found myself training to become a dance teacher.

This is absurd for so many reasons–not the least of which is that I’m 43 and that my genetic package includes gravity defying hamstrings.

Then there’s the family history of being yanked out of ballet class at age 5; and the elementary school performances where it took weeks to learn what others learned in moments; or the highschool musicals, where I was the one who could be seen “counting” out my steps.

What gives?

Well, about a year ago, facing growing children and a deepening drift between myself and my previous incarnation as an elementary teacher, I embarked on a full-scale career search.

Determined to find a new avenue of self-expression and contribution, I read a host of great books on the subject of passion and purpose, taking all kinds of personality tests, and really getting a handle on what makes me tick; But unfortunately never finding a “job” that matched that beat.

In one last act of desperation (and courage), I took a position in the world of business–of strategic plans and bottom lines, hoping to force new growth, if nothing else.

How then did I end up at Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox this April studying something called DansKinetics? I’ve asked myself that same question, regularly, with some choice expletives, especially as I return to “dance boot camp” this month to complete my certification.

All I can say is that I love to move to music. I always have. I just forgot. And at my age, there aren’t enough parties or weddings to go around (and forget bars, they aren’t the best match for the married, financially challenged, and easily hungover.)

The other part is that Kripalu DansKinetics (KDK), despite its complicated name (they’ve since renamed it), is really quite simple, designed for everyBODY, offering an incredible workout that’s fun and easy and most importantly: healing.

My class of teacher trainees range in age from 20 to 60, and they come from all walks of life, hailing as far away as Italy, Japan, and even Wisconsin!

So here I am, “career-less-ly”, offering dance classes to those of us who aren’t “dancers”–just because I’m pretty sure we ALL like to move to music, we just forgot.

Come re-member with me!

(More about YogaDance.)

Get behind me, Satan

What we call the beginning is often the end.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

T. S. Eliot

snake-eating-its-own-tail

My family of origin–made up of Fundamentalists and New-Agers and lapsed Catholics–is my own laboratory of world peace. If we can speak to each other, if we can understand each other, if we can find common ground, then there’s hope for the world.

Back in 2004, I went to live with my sister in Florida while my husband finished building our house in Vermont.  During my time Down South, I picked up some Christian speak from my family and from the church bill boards that lined the roads on the way to the mall. “If God is your co-pilot, swap seats.” That was one of my favorites. Another favorite was an everyday exclamation from the people there,  “Thank the Lord. ” But the one that intrigued me the most seemed to be reserved for special occasions:

“Get behind me, Satan.”

This one tickles me still. I’ve always been concerned about the religious focus on good versus evil; so I was delighted to hear “The Devil” addressed with such levity.

In the years after I left Florida, I kept my finger on the pulse of some of the Christian world, not only to stay connected with my family, but also because (for a long while) the Fundamentalists were the only ones on main stream media talking about matters of spirit. So from time to time, I’d turn on the radio and take in a segment from Focus on the Family with James Dobson.  It’s not that I agreed with everything he said, but there was always something to glean, especially if you knew how to translate Christian speak into your own words.

Over the years, my sister and I learned to do that for each other.  She’d say “Universe” for me, and I’d plug in “Jesus” for her. We found that we could hear each other better that way, and love each other better too.

Recently she turned me on to a new ministry called Ransomed Heart. I loved the name, and she knew our voices would resonate.  Though we didn’t talk about matters from the same place, we were often exploring the same themes–living from a place of authenticity and alignment with truth.

Whenever I find truth aligned among strange bedfellows, I get fired up; like yesterday during the National Prayer Service. I cried listening to the interfaith leaders speak (Jew, Muslim, Quaker, Baptist) each, in their own way, on behalf of gun control, on the one-week anniversary of the awful massacre at Sandy Hook.

Like countless others, I’ve spent the time since then railing against the view that guns aren’t central to the violence in this Nation.  It’s not that I don’t eschew violence or understand it as fundamental to the issues we face, but as any wise parent or teacher knows, you take the rock out of the child’s hand before you discuss why he wanted to throw it.

But what is straightforward to the rest of the world is terribly complex to the U.S.  Our ability to see is confused by fear, entitlement, tradition and authority. This country needs to lie down on the couch of a good therapist.

After reading a sleuth of “secular” posts on the killings in Connecticut, I turned toward the religious, hoping to be inspired by what John Elredge of Ransom Heart Ministries had to offer; but when he opened with a paragraph likening gun control to a child’s suggestion of removing trees to stop the wind, I was appalled. It got worse.  He wasn’t protecting guns out of fear or allegiance; he was dismissing them, as besides the point:

We seem utterly devoted to avoiding the question of evil, to misdiagnosing it, completely committed to a childish view of the world. And our foolishness is proving very costly… “The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind.” …heresy that it is economics, race, poverty, a political party or doctrine that are the real causes of evil in the world; in this case, that it is the lack of gun control that causes evil in the world. Is the evil therefore located in the gun? Far more people are killed by automobile accidents each year in the U.S.—is the evil located in those vehicles?

His follow up post was even more alarming:

 I want to encourage and equip you to be praying Life over your households. Some sort of death assignment and/or spirit has been released, and we need to bring the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ against it.

When I later read what Dr. Dobson of Focus on the Family had to say about Newtown, I was numb with disbelief:

We have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.

Now before anyone goes and assigns the above views to all Christians, keep in mind that there are as many differences among Christians, even among Fundamentalists, as there are differences everywhere. But this is not to say that those who view the world in terms of good and evil don’t alarm me. I’ve seen the harm this view can do, and the wrong it can justify, or worse–ignore.

I once made the argument to my sister that one of the fundamental differences between our belief systems was that she was waiting for the world to end (to crash and burn, let’s say); while I was waiting for it to begin (to awaken and heal.) My sense was that her view led her to accept what was happening in the world and respond compassionately to relieve the expected suffering; while my view called me to imagine and create something more humane.

Do you think they’re one and the same?

Kelly Salasin, December 22, 2012

Conscious Incompetence

2012 is evidently the year for consciousness. At least for me. About my own incompetencies.

In the past 6 months, I have been informed of my incompetency as: a daughter, a sister, a community member, a group member, a friend, a blogger, a facilitator, a bread-winner, an appointment keeper… and the list goes on.

In this 2012 deluge of “wrongness,” my ego feels riddled with buckshot; and yet despite limping with self-doubt, I sense an emerging litheness.

New frontiers–beyond perfection–beckon on the horizon; while the onslaught of criticism cripples any thought of turning back in defense.

And yet, what I discovered on the path to the Wild West of Self, was more reckoning. Only this time, I was doing the shooting–coming face to face with my own annoying personality traits.

I won’t bore you with descriptions. I can’t bear them myself.

I will tell you that I wanted to crawl into a ball of despair, or a bowl of chocolate, or even better–a box of hard work.

Ah. Work. The great distraction.

It’s been 17 years (the age of my first born) since I relinquished the full-time weight of that mask.

Staying home with the kids forced me into greater relationship–with self; and together we created a warrior of awareness–and love.

This past weekend, I was reminded of how these two qualities rely on each other.  How awareness without love leaves us hard and vulnerable to breaking; and how heart without clarity leaves us floundering, without purpose.

This study comes as part of a yoga teacher training in which I have embarked. Each month, a dozen of us gather for a weekend of collective consciousness: the more we learn, the more we realize just how much there is to learn; and this awareness threatens to devour us.

Our teacher explains that we have moved from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. This is the path of becoming, he assures us, relating his own fragile journey.

He tells us that we will gradually move into conscious competency; but of this we are frightened too.  We feel clumsy and self-conscious with these new skills, we complain.

He soothes us by sharing that this new self-consciousness will eventually unfold into unconscious competency; and finally our fluttering hearts settle. For now.

For some, the weekend of yoga and study comes as a welcome retreat, but at this half-year mark, I feel exposed. The quieting of my mind in meditation has left bare my own imperfections.

This is so painful that I desperately want to hide, but unconsciousness no longer fits.

Once home, I try ice cream and Facebook and family, but I climb into bed unsatisfied. I decide that I simply must jump into work first thing in the morning even though I wasn’t scheduled to go in until Tuesday.

My 17 year-old stops in to say goodnight and decides that tonight is the night to open up to all the ways he has felt overwhelmed, and corrected, and confined–by his mother.

If I wasn’t so tired, I would laugh at the way 2012 pursues me.

In the morning, I remain in bed. My husband brings me tea, and I sit up and make a list of all my faults, one by one.

I hold my hand so that I don’t run away.

I remind myself that these expressions were honestly earned by a lifetime of sometimes cruel imbalance.

With compassionate awareness, I accept my imperfect self, while at the same time I commit to building competency:

I want to listen more.

I want to refrain from interrupting.

I want to continue to appreciate my enthusiasm and insight while allowing more space for others to enjoy their own.

Kelly Salasin, June 2012

the DARK in me…

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

—Carl Jung

I’ve been expecting this post ever since I first discovered–hate–living inside–of me.

But it didn’t come.

Instead, posts like these arrived:  I Hate You, and  The Things I Hate.

And then, after I used a photograph from my latest post: The Toilet Bowl, as my Facebook profile, and received profoundly disturbed comments from friends, I knew that I was on to something bigger.

I just didn’t know if I could deliver.

But I’ll try. Here. With you:

…Years ago, when I first discovered yoga, it gave me the biggest, blushing high; but later, it was more hit and miss–sometimes releasing inexplicable anger instead of joy. I blamed it on my damn neck. It had always been so tight.

But now I realize that it wasn’t my neck’s fault that yoga made me mad. My neck was simply releasing that which had been stored inside it for so long:

Unexpressed venom.

In my life; in my conception of myself in my life, there wasn’t room for ugliness…. so I stuffed it in or covered it up with something else.

All these years later, I’m much more aware of and accepting of my feelings (a wise therapist helps), but there are still some “unbiddens of old” lurking in the shadows. I mask them with anxiety or numbness, and if they still creep out, I label them as bad or wrong, even though I only strengthen them in doing so.

In that first yoga session, twenty years ago, I awkwardly practiced the classic Sanskrit closing: Namaste.  At the end of each class, we yogis turned toward one another and toward our teacher–bringing our hands to our hearts–bowing lovingly with a word that meant: The light in me greets the light in you.

How nice to live in the light!  How nice to be above all those who don’t.

There was once class, however, when my teacher did not end with Namaste, but instead added something else, translated as, The darkness in me greets the darkness in you.

This sounded like something from Star Wars; and I didn’t get it; though all these years later, it means so much to me.

Though I’ve never been able to track down that Sanskrit expression about the dark, I’ve discovered a fuller meaning for Namaste.

More than “light,” Namaste addresses the “spirit” or the “oneness” in each other.

When we honor that Oneness, no doubt we must include both the dark and the light.

And so, it is, that I greet the darkness in myself–again–and in doing so pay homage to your own darkness, in the hope that we can each see our own shit, and love it into consciousness.

Kelly Salasin, April 12, 2012