Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

Christmas at the sea


You know how a certain cup of caffeine can provide just the right buzz?

It’s the same with yoga, though the feeling is different.

Sometimes, however, the right cup of tea or espresso can leave me edgy or angsty, wondering, “Maybe I need another?”

This is how it was yesterday after my Saturday morning time on the mat.

The discrepancy was further pronounced at breakfast, seated as I was, between my husband and our son, both of who received the effects that I had intended.

“It’s as if we’re all high,” Lloyd said, as we waited for our eggs after the morning class.

“Not me,” I countered. “I’m even crankier.”

I’ve practiced long enough to know that this is how it goes.

After the blush of my first few classes way back in 1994, something else began to emerge.

When I explained the tightness and irritability (and anger), my yoga teacher suggested someone who provided something called “bodywork.”

My healing journey began then or picked up speed. But alas, it wasn’t as I expected, ie. a journey with a beginning and an end.

“Healing” simply meant that I “met” myself in my body, as is, without abandoning it. Sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Sometimes blissed, sometimes pissed.

“Damn yoga,” my younger sister says, and I feel that now, even if she was referring to the way yoga continues to maintain that eighth of an inch height in my favor, leaving her forever the shortest among our 8 siblings, while she continues to wait on the age differential of almost a decade to shrink me.

I keep thinking of the ocean. Of how nice it would be to spend Christmas beside it.

Alone.

Maybe I could take the drive today to fulfill that urge.

But what explains it?

My boys just arrived home on Friday night, and today is the first day that everyone is free from work.

Plus leaving today would pile up the to-do list on Christmas Eve.

Still…

I woke often through the night, wondering if the boys had arrived back home from their late shifts and their stop at the tail end of my shorter sister’s Solstice Party, her 14th in a row.

Or maybe it was the Moon, already waning, but ever-bright above the snow.

Or it could be my Mother, celebrating her 76th Christmas birthday, these 19 years from the grave.

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn…

Do you know that spiritual?

I meditated on that unfathomably bright star this morning, shimmering through the trees, thinking it a plane or a satellite.

And then I got up and fixed myself some tea. Without caffeine. And sipped it in the ocean of dark.

Pulling ahead of the Patriarchy


I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.

I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.

Cue: Tragedy.

Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)

But back to Tragedy.

Enter: Stage left.

Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.

Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.

To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.

This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.

Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.

Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?

“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or  “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”

What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.

I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.

Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:

“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”

I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.

I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.

But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.

I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)

My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:

These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?

I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.

Mack Trucks.

I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.

The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.

Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.

Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.

The Mack Truck sped up too.

I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.

My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.

I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.

More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.

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.

 

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 begins to fill 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 up 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 tank top. 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 that divides me from them. Two women jump up to restore my modesty, and I step down off the dais for their help.

“Kelly,” someone calls from the back, her voice similarly 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,” I say.

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 a Let Your Yoga Dance class–that they soon will 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.

When I look out, the sun rising above them, I see as 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–as we take in each other’s gaze, 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 forward 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, changed my top, and lay down on my bunk, pulling the curtain around it.

In raw humility, I began to cry, for my perfect imperfection.

I had wanted to be so much more, but I could 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.)