Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Thanksgiving of Firsts

This was a Thanksgiving of firsts. It was my first spent in Northern California, without my family, and my first to greet turkey day in the great outdoors. In preparation for my experiment in independence, I read Michael Chabon’s essay in the latest issue of Bon Appetit. In “The Comforts of Not-Home,” he writes about his family’s Thanksgiving ritual of not cultivating any particular tradition and, instead, keeping things freshly unfamiliar, year after year.

My family tradition can be described in a word: cozy. We begin by watching Martha Stewart’s Thanksgiving Special. The ancient VHS features Martha’s homemade holiday, in which she harvests cranberries knee-deep in a bog and roasts pheasants in her very own smokehouse. Inspired, we get to work in the kitchen. Although the menu never changes, our meal is enjoyed with an element of surprise. After all, homemade pecan pie only comes but once a year.

This year, as I embarked on a break with custom, I was inspired by Chabon’s narrative of celebrating change and building a tradition on non-tradition. Inspired, but also hesitant. What would Thanksgiving hold for me, without anticipating the taste of my Mother’s apple chestnut stuffing or my Grandmother’s thick and creamy turkey gravy? 


I made a decision: if I was taking Chabon’s “comforts of not-home” approach, I would do so literally. First step: wake up in a tent on Thanksgiving morning. After a night of camping with friends in Point Reyes, it felt oddly festive rising with the sun to the sounds of wild critters. It was a morning of scents, not so much savory or sweet, but rather earthly and crisp. Aromatic Eucalyptus and Bay wafted through the air, as we waited quietly for a close-knit family of deer to cross the trail.

A Thanksgiving of firsts, I accepted an invitation to join a friend and her family that night for dinner. It was her first time hosting and my first as a guest. The meal was traditional but, of course, progressive for me. Tired and full, I skipped dessert and ate my first pumpkin pie of the season a day late. It wasn’t even from the leftovers. It was brand new.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sits and Sings

It was arranged this way, it was in place when I got here. Then I show up, essentially a part of it. Not part of its make-up, its conception. More a part of how it meets the world. The two of us meet and, without speaking, it's as if something is said.

No utterance, no whole. But holy still. No words, no. Conversation silently. Me to you, you to me and then me and then. It's always about the me in here. No words but we aren't hungry anymore. We no longer feel the need to see to believe, hear to dream. Good night. No, good. Just good.

I don't need to eat, but will find something else to make me whole. The middle, right, the middle. The meeting, any place. You to me, bird to tree. It hums and shakes its wings, its heavily rain-drenched leaves. The bird sits and sings. The bird sits and sings.

Goodness, how arranged. The light plus the pavement wet and fine. I trusted you once, when you said something. You said, vast emptiness. You said, leaf on your sleeve. Notice, don't believe. I trust you now and then, the clouds. Coming at me. Me to you, you to mountain top. Arranged and no head.

At the end of the day, at the end of the day. We are here, we are not theory. We are around and circles like the dew. Once was rain now is when I kissed the petal. When I saw the rose and stuffy nose. I chopped the wood and not a single splinter. I hiked the trail and mountain top, foggy few.

Leaves of sleeves, leaf on, just leave me. Both here first, both arranged and born. I didn't come to make you, so leave the making, leave it left. I made myself a house made out of tree branches. I lived in it. The wood was there and fine but branches let me see. Wraparound porch of pine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Promise of Yoga

So much happens inside of the yoga studio. As a practicing yogi, I think I get the idea: I unroll my mat, sit in a comfortable cross legged position, gently touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth (slightly grazing the back of my two top front teeth), and engage in Ujjayi Pranayama (also know as: deep breathing). As the class begins to flow, we are a collective symphony. I stretch my limbs and move my body, holding poses for many, many rounds of breaths. Sometimes, we practice to the sound of rhythmic chanting. Other times, we are inspired to have fun and go wild, practicing to the pulses of a Lil' Wayne or Madonna top-40 hit (anything is possible).

As my breathing becomes oceanic, I picture myself fathoms below sea-level, imagining -- no, believing -- I can take myself anywhere and withstand any discomfort, simply by relying on my breath. I sweat, I move faster, I find my body more limber. I twist, I fold, I back bend, I go upside down. I lose my balance, my mind drifts, I think about what's for dinner. I remember why I was sad when I woke up that morning. I look forward to my next vacation. We come down to our mats and cool down, letting our bodies slowly melt into the earth. We offer thanks, dedicate our practice to a loved one in need, we set intentions.

I often feel hesitant going into class, given how vulnerable and naked the practice of yoga can often make me feel. Why open myself up to feelings of stress, self-loathing, or, even worse, memories from the past? I've often felt anxious in certain poses that physically turn my back to the world (child's pose or pigeon pose, where we hide our faces into the earth). As if lost in a dark woods, I'm fearful of what's behind me.

In moments of frustration, I've felt tension only to discover I'm grinding my teeth or looking around the room. I compare myself to others. I wonder why the teacher is making us do my least favorite poses. I look at the clock. I'm disjointed when my mat slides around. I'm jolted when my sweat prevents me from doing certain poses that require a steady hand on a shin or a sturdy wrap and bind. I try to hold myself up, and I find myself slipping.

Well there it is. That is life. How do we react when this daily problem occurs: we try to hold ourselves up but we are confronted with conflict? We try, we see others doing it better, but no: we are spiraling, slipping, losing. Yoga is a physical practice, but yoga is also your life. The majority of the time, I feel safe on my yoga mat. Even if I'm exhausted or having a bad day, I can retreat to a passive pose and let the guidance of my teacher lend me comfort and strength. Where is this action in life? Where is this safety?

I don't have all the answers, but I noticed something recently. It is true: I have never left a yoga class unfulfilled. I've never left feeling anything but elated, healthy, happy, free, confident, on-top-of-the-world. Thoughtful, too. Like I said earlier, it hasn't always been that way going into a yoga class. It's often like pulling teeth, dragging myself to a 90 minute yoga class. Remember the nakedness? The vulnerability? And yet...

For two years, I've found myself hooked onto an early morning yoga class. Before work, before traffic, before the commute, before interacting with the day. Waking up early can be a challenge (especially with a late night prior, creating less hours of sleep than I would prefer) but in general it's the promise of yoga that gets me out of bed. No kicking and screaming, just a soft float. It's the walk into the studio, the "checking in" at the front desk, the knocking off of my shoes, the filling up of my bottle bottle with cold, nourishing water. It's my teacher's ear-to-ear grin, smiling as she greets me at the door. It's the promise that no matter what happens today, I am loved because I love this practice.

That is also life, right? We are loved because we love.

So much happens in a yoga studio.  The class, the breathing, the mats, the music, the teacher. It's what happens outside of the studio that puts us to the test. Can I practice a calm and silent nature in times of conflict? Can I sit in traffic with as much ease as when I sit on my mat, meditating for a whole 5 minutes. The whole 5 minutes often feel like a lifetime. In yogi terms, it is. It's yogi's choice how we chose to live it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012