I begin my day
in the Shadowbrook Room
at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Healing.
Just before 6:30 am, the room fills with soon-to-be Let Your Yoga Dance instructors
who take their place on the mats
in front of me.
I guide them in a series of warming, and then strengthening, poses
before inviting these warriors onto their backs,
into the 4th chakra,
the sweet pause,
the heart–of a Let Your Yoga Dance class.
They bring their knees to chest,
roll to one side,
and breathe deeply, in and out,
In and out.
When I look out over the room,
I tell them that I see in them a sea
“Let Your Yoga Dance babies–
Readying to be born,” I say.
There are a few giggles in response,
and then these expand until the laughter
rolls across the belly
of this room
in a joyous chorus
We lift our legs into the air, Happy Baby,
just as the sun lifts over the mountain
birthing a new day;
and later, Pam tells me
what she now knows
(and what we all long to remember):
“It doesn’t have to be so hard.”
(Kelly is a certified Let Your Yoga Dance instructor, and serves on staff with founder Megha Nancy Buttenheim; she’s also on staff at Solar Hill Yoga Center in Brattleboro, Vermont, with founder/director Scott Willis, of Hits the Spot Yoga.)
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 of me, 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 trainees as they were invited to come into a circle and speak their intentions for the week, allowing these to be expressed through the body as well.
It was my first time assisting at a training, but I took a turn too, and stepped inside…
My head bowed. My spine bent like a flower kissing the earth; and a word came forth that I hadn’t expected:
What did this mean?
To whom was I to be devoted?
I pondered this 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 for the second half of the training.
This time, I was relieved to hold none of the angst or anxiety that accompanied the unknowns of my first experience assisting, 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, I had 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 welt on my cheek. Days later, I hurt my back in the simplest of yoga postures.
SOMETHING was going on…
By the end of a vigorous week together, I was swept up in a current of sensation that left much of my mind behind. We gathered as a staff on the night before graduation and 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?
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 the intense session of dance.
She looked like a child in that moment, and I recognized what I witnessed, and spoke this word in appreciation of her work:
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, I silently greeted them along the way.
I felt so graced to bear witness to the enormity of this moment, and so honored to help steward the journey, that tears, typically frozen inside, flowed freely down my face.
When we took our seats and 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, and I was unprepared for what came next…
Music began to play and they formed a semi-circle in front of us, while others left the room and re-entered in a procession down the winding rose-petaled path, each bearing a basket in front of her heart.
When they arrived at the front of the room, they delivered a basket into each of our laps, bowing at our feet, and placing their hands there as the others called out appreciations for each one of us in stereophonic bliss.
My hands remained at my heart, unable to move, as tears of recognition washed my face.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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:
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.
Now, I’m much more aware 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.
“No,” he says, and then adds in my defense: “They belong to you; they’re about your life.”
Still, I feel bad. I know it’s a challenge to have a memoirist in the family. And what will happen when my book comes out? My father may never speak to me again; though it might be hard to tell because he talks to me so little anyway. I guess I should be satisfied that I have garnished some of his attention… that he’s actually reading my work; hearing how I experienced my childhood; even feeling it.
That’s a good thing, right?
Why does it feel so bad?
Why do I sit in bed, late into the night, staring out at the stars, feeling orphaned–again?
I guess I could have waited until my dad died to write anything that included him; that way he wouldn’t have to experience what he calls: my daggers.
But they’re not meant to be daggers, they’re meant to be warning signs for others: Don’t spank your children. Don’t forget about them in the middle of a divorce. Don’t abandon them when you have a new family. Don’t think that your 30 or 40 or even 50 year old daughter doesn’t need her father. Doesn’t want him. Doesn’t love him even though he has hurt her.
As a lifelong advocate for children, I feel it my duty to speak up. In fact, I’ve been like this since I was a child. Some of the biggest fights I had with my father were over my sisters; and before that, speaking up for myself:
“That isn’t fair,” I’d say, and he’d banish me to my room.
“Why…” I’d say, and he’d leave me in the car while the rest of the family went sightseeing.
“I’m too old to be told to go to bed,” I’d say, and he’d threaten me with his size. (I was 18.)
The truth is that he was the one who taught me to speak up. To be candid. To be bold. To be forthright.