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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Cleavage.

I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.

At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?

My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.

And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:

“Slut.”

I’m struck by this assault.

“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”

But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
Defined me?
Defiled me?

(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)

It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.

“Why?” they said.

“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”

Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.

 

I consider changing my top.
(I don’t.)

Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.

My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.

I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.

That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.

I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Work release?
Were they dressed the same?

My mind re-imagines the bench scene:

“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”

“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”

I’m struck by how often I say  or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.

“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”

I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)

“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.

“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.

I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.

“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.

I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:

Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!

(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)

I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)

It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.

Of belonging.

To me.

Because a heart broken,

Expands.

~

(Related post: I’m Leaving.)

Rest, for the world

If I was sick, say with the flu or maybe cancer, I would lie here, on the couch, like I did for a good long while this afternoon, and do nothing, except listen–to the sound of the breeze through the trees–like I once did for an entire summer of afternoons–the summer my mother lay dying, 300 miles away, my belly full with child, searching for my mother’s face in the leaves, for any sign of her wellbeing, and later, his mouth, on my breast–and instead of getting up and pushing through this hangover of family– an August wedding–too many hellos & goodbyes–in too short a time–instead of chasing away this deep fatigue, this ache in my bones, with food or caffeine or distraction, or even this here–these words I’m expressing–I would remain effortless, without choice, with only the rise and fall of my breath, and the sound of the leaves in the breeze, and my life, my living, and maybe even the world, would be better for it.

Fox Den

On Saturday nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, there is almost always a musical offering of some kind, and over the years (first as a participant, and later as an assistant), I’ve enjoyed performances with Krishna Das, HuDost, Linda Worster, Bernice Lewis, Ajeet Kaur, Tanglewood Music Festival & many more.

At the end of August, Karen Drucker was the Saturday night concert and she offered a program inspired by the Taizé gatherings originating in France. Karen threaded contemplation, chanting & silent meditation through 5 potent themes to lend solace and inspiration for these challenging national and global times.

I had the honor of joining her on stage for the theme of”Silence,” for which I selected a Wendell Berry poem which has long been such a comfort to me:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

At home, when the world is too much with me, I turn from my computer, and step to my office door, and look out to the rock cropping, and remember the fox cubs there in June, and just like that, all the weight vanishes.

I know that you have moments like this too, and what a difference they must make, inside us, between us, among us, everywhere.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth

Capricorn, My Mother’s Moon

My mother’s moon. Capricorn.

Full moon and fox den and hotflash…
In lieu of releasing into a deep sleep,
I open to the sensations around me,
including the ocean-like rustle
of the breeze through the trees,
and the squeal of pups,
and the fine mist across my forehead & between my breasts & in the crook of my arms;
and I ride it all,
like a wave,
only not the kind that crests & breaks & tumbles
toward the shore,
but the deeper swell,
that rises and falls, rises and falls,
like breath…
And I think:
This is how I’ll die.

And I think…

Thank you Mom.

Whose soul?

 

A shop keeper in Donegal turned me on to Yeats (and wool),
and some time later, I copied down this verse
so as to lure a lover back to me
whose passion I mistook for
soul.

I’d found a four-leaf clover on the day that I told him I had to go.

“You’ll miss my graduation,” he said, after I extended my time abroad.

I suppose he never forgave me those months;
even with all the letters I sent,
even after I came home with Aran sweaters.

But this poem and I remained forever close.

Though it’s only now
“old and grey” myself,
though not quite “nodding by the fire,”
that I realize that I was the “pilgrim soul”
to whom I’d meant to pledge my heart.

~


When You Are Old

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

~William Butler Yeats

Throw away the key…

One of the unexpected ways that my life has unfolded is that from time to time, I have the honor of assisting presenters at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

In this volunteer capacity, I’ve come to serve as a regular assistant to a few of my favorites, including the author Dani Shapiro whose presence is as lovely as her work…

Quieting.
Clearing.
Soul-quenching.

Though I have assisted this same program of hers a half-dozen times, I never fail to benefit from the practice of writing inside the nourishing container that she creates with her presence to the space between the words.

Sometimes I write from the center of my current writing project, which alas, has been the same project since I began assisting in 2014. Often I write from the center of the present moment, which is quite familiar as a memoirist and as an instructor of yoga.

It’s always a bit of a treasure hunt to see what comes on the page in a room full of others doing the same; and there is often gold at the end, no matter if one is a professional author, an amateur, or someone without any writing practice at all.

A favorite prompt Dani offers comes in response to a poem entitled: It Could Have Happened.

Here’s what I found inside it this past autumn…

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It Could Have Happened…
September 2016
Kripalu

it could have happened that I, like my traveling companions, did not hear the knock at 4 AM

It could have happened that it didn’t stir me or cause me to wonder:

Is someone locked out of the room?
The building?
A Relationship?

Was it a knock on the door?
The window?
The wall?

Should I get up?
Let her in?
See what’s wrong?
Make sure I’m safe?

It could’ve happened that Sting did not begin to sing in my head…

“If you love somebody, go ahead and throw away the key…”

It could’ve happened that he did not continue…

“Free, free. Set them free.”

It could have happened that the singing subsided, and I fell back into a deep sleep

That I didn’t ponder why…

Why me?

Why now?

Why this song?

Who needs freeing?

It could have happened that I didn’t feel the urge to rise and run down the hill toward the labyrinth before dawn…

It could have happened that I didn’t pause with the birdsong and the pale yellow petals and the mountain range as the sun began to rise…

It could have happened that once inside the labyrinth, it didn’t occur to me, that it was…

Me,

I was the one

The

One

who Sting was singing to

The one who needed

To Be

Loved

By me

Without a key
~

(5 months later and I’m still not sure what this means…)