Give me a sign, any old sign

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He died 6 years ago from complications of alpha-1. It’s a terrible genetic flaw that causes lung disease and I wouldn’t wish it on a single soul. In some ways he was lucky as his symptoms didn’t really effect him until the last ten years of his life, for many others, by their 30’s it’s already in full swing of suffocation mode. He was 77 when his lungs finally gave out.

I still miss him, that doesn’t ever go away. My grief and obviously the rawness have diminished with time. Its such a strange experience to watch someone you love in such extreme pain and discomfort that you pray for it to end, but when their body finally surrenders to illness, your relief is eclipsed by missing them and selfishly wanting one more hug, or joke, or phone call.

The first year and birthday were tough. I kept wanting a sign that he was ok. I had this irrational perception that he would let me know in some profound way at some point, I decided that should be his birthday. My father had been stoic in his plight, his will to live had been strong. I had grown up with an appreciation for the occult and supernatural, but that had been my mothers influence, my dad had not said much on the subject. My husband took my children to a Mets game the night of his birthday that first year. I thought I was better off at home just reminiscing and willing a glimpse of his life force.

There I was, home alone, 7:30 at night, just thinking of my father, when suddenly my dogs went crazy. My Luna, a golden doodle, was just 2 and beating the basement door with her paws. I foolishly opened it and chased after her in my own curiosity. Unbeknownst to me, a skunk had somehow gone into my garage, ripped through the drywall and had gone into my utility room where my furnace and well are located…he immediately was afraid of us and used his primary weapon of defense, spraying the air, Luna, myself, and my home with his noxious musk. The horror was instant and unrelenting. Poor Luna was howling as the vapors burned her nose and eyes. I was screaming at the universe, yelling though my tears that this, most definitely, was not the sign of life I was hoping to find.

The next few hours of triage for Luna and I were probably more hellish than you can possibly imagine, and yet I kept, between my tears, cackling with laughter as I spoke to my father, saying ” Really dad! Really! A skunk!?” I was no longer sane, and was quite relieved my family had not been there for the worst of it. Alas, my sense of smell was ruined for weeks if not longer. The walls had to be ripped out of the basement and much of what had been stored there was ruined. I was broken but yet in the fallout of mass destruction, I found a spark back to life, a mission to ensure my children’s home environment was livable and secure took over my self pity and forced me to choose the present moment over missing the past.

It’s not always comfortable or easy to just be present, or to accept those bizarre and painful moments that just happen. Death is the biggest loss any of us face, but by fearing, worrying, self pity, and yes even reminiscing the past, we are kept from living and having the potential for more joy, more love, more growth, and less skunks. I don’t need anymore signs dad, Happy birthday xo.

If at first you don’t succeed…

“A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new”
― Albert Einstein

Stepping out of a comfort zone is scary. I know there are adrenal junkies out there who live for that type of sensation or rush, but I’m pretty sure, I can confidently state, that I am not that person. However, I also know I can push myself, ideally with compassion, to find my edge, to work past fear, and try something new. Granted, it is also important to know your capabilities and limitations. For instance, though I love to sing, my debut on American Idol would only showcase a delusional mad woman with no musical talent what so ever. I always wonder why someone with a terrible voice auditions, do they not know? Are they attempting comedy? Their fifteen minutes of fame? I’d love to see a psychological study that helps me to understand this phenomenon of self harm.

In any case, I tried to push myself this last week by signing up for led intermediate series with Sharath. I’m by no means fully capable in intermediate. I have only just starting finding balance in pinchu, my latest asana. It is quite nice when it happens, especially in one try, like today, but yesterday, it took three and a half tries. In the Mysore room, I’ve got all the time in the world, just battling my own head as I try to get my body and breath to be steady. In led intermediate, it’s one try, no breaks, no extra breaths in down dog, no fidgeting or sitting, just go and do.

Nadi shodana, aka, intermediate series, is a nerve cleansing sequence. Even in the Mysore setting, it, at least for me, completely jacks up my nervous system. Fight or flight mode used to kick in every single time I tried kapotasana. Mercifully, it does slowly start to either diminish or you get used to it and learn to control your breath enough to stave off the urge to run off and curl in a ball in the corner rocking and sobbing. ( I’ve never actually done that, but I have been tempted! ) I don’t know how it feels for anyone else specifically, but in full disclosure I have PTSD and this sequence has brought many past demons to the surface. Learning to channel my energy in a positive and compassionate way through my breath has been immensely beneficial….but I will save that for another day.

So there I was, in led intermediate. The first day of it was intense and filled with unknowns. I was stopped before my end for a toe drag in bakasana b, at least that’s what I thought. The second day of it, I progressed further through the twists, but Eddie Stern came by me and gently touched my shoulder, and said, hey don’t over do it. I was barely breathing as the count was long and yet painfully consistent. I agreed with him and stopped soon after to watch the rest of the magic until joining back in at closing. My mind had not been as hijacked as the previous day and I was able to truly observe and appreciate the rest of the sequence. I grasped that the intensity of intermediate naturally picks up your own breath count so the hold lasts less time as my breath quickens, but alas Sharath’s count does not, so for instance, in bakasana, the hold in my breath count was probably ten, though the actual count was a slow five, this was true throughout. It made me realize I was stopped more because I just wasn’t grasping how to keep the postures steady and comfortable at such a relentless pace. Yoga Sutra 2:46 sthira-sukham asanam, the posture should be steady and comfortable.

I went home feeling good, regardless of how my practice looked on the outside, I was trying to the best of my capability. I was pushing beyond my slower fidgety Mysore pace and figuring out how to keep my stamina steady enough to persevere with my breathing and longer holds until my last asana on Sharath’s steady and slow count.

In returning on the last day of intermediate, I really just wanted to enjoy the experience. I ended up next to the same lovely Canadian woman from the day before. We had done Supta Vajrasana together. I hate that asana. Truly. One I dread more than most. I think it’s because, before I ever tried it, it looked somehow relaxing or soothing to me. I was completely wrong, and laugh now at the irony of how much I looked forward to finally getting it. Comically it was the one close up picture of me taken over the course of Sharath’s New York tour. IMG_0759.JPGphoto curtesy of Sonia Jones

So, same bat time same bat channel, on my mat, prayers of gratitude before our opening chant, just thinking about trying my best without worrying about it. It was easier! It was no less dynamic or difficult, but my mind wasn’t freaking out saying what’s going to happen?! I had two days of it to get under my skin and into a perspective of concentrating on my breath while letting go and listening to Sharath. I finally made it up to and into Pinchu Mayurasana, my last asana. When I landed, Sharath was standing right in front of me smiling. I smiled too. He asked me if I go further, and I laughed and said not yet. He nodded and said, “good job, now rest and watch.”

Did I need that bit of encouragement? No, that’s not why I practice, but it felt really great to hear all the same. I wasn’t able to attend the last day back at led primary, I was abruptly awoken by a very sick puppy instead. My little Rocky boy had been fed treats by my children that greatly upset his delicate tummy and so taking care of him took precedence.

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He’s lucky he’s so cute!

We never know where tomorrow leads and I’m just grateful I was able to do this now. I am trying to quicken my pace in the Mysore room, and yet not lose focus on working to improve everyday, one step at a time.

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Overwhelming

Yesterday was a tough day for me, but I know worse for many. The 13th anniversary of such horrific loss as 9/11. I lived across from the World Trade Center in Battery Park City for years. I had moved out soon before, but not willingly. I loved living in Manhattan, but with three children, it had become hard to afford. We had such a vibrant community tucked on the water, an esplanade and parks galore at our doorsteps and the World Financial Center and Trade Center were our rainy day indoor stomping grounds. Great friendships and a really nice family community were a truly special part of the enclave. Stolen nights away from young ones were spent across the street at the Marriott in the Trade Center, while my mom watched them. Our view from the apartment was a glorious corner of trade center and north city views with the Hudson River to the left.

My family and I had just been down there Sunday the 9th, for a child’s birthday party. I so missed my friends and neighborhood. I was lamenting the decision to move out to the suburbs, trying to guilt my husband into the possibility we had made a poor decision by leaving. Just two days later a piece of fuselage incinerated the inside of my old bedroom.

I was already in a panic before it happened. I was rushing to the hospital the morning of 9/11, I had gotten a call my father had collapsed at his pulmonary exercise class and was being rushed by ambulance, with no idea how he even was, as I headed out. My husband called me on my cell, very disturbed, telling me, that he had just seen a plane hit into the side of the building. I didn’t want to believe him, it seemed so improbable. I told him to head home. I called a dear friend from the old hood right after to ask if she was ok, as we were speaking, she watched and screamed in terror as the second plane was coming in, we were cut off the moment it hit, taking out the cell connection from the top of the tower. So many people I loved were there in the midst of hell, and I could do nothing but pray and hope, make sure my dad was alright for the moment, than rush home to get my kids from kindergarten and preschool to be safe with me. As the second building went down, I watched a mom from preschool collapse to the ground in front of me knowing her husband was gone. It was all so terrible, and I was in shock.

I lost two close friends that day amongst all the victims, but knew many others. My old neighborhood was decimated and my family and friends living and working there, were in pure survival mode. My husband did not get home for an excruciating and harrowing 16 hours. It wasn’t just an iconic symbol of America to me, but a home where I had worked and my kids played and read books in the Borders book store with an incredible tree inside the children’s section on the ground level of the Trade Center, where I walked my dog and let her off leash to run around when it was quiet at night. It was gone.

There were plenty of moms and dads and nannies and young ones at home in Battery Park City when this happened. I had breakfast this morning, post practice, with my sweet friend I had been on the phone with as the nightmarish events played out. She and I were reminiscing some of it as the day just brings it flooding back to the surface. She didn’t realize she and her younger son were part of the footage in a short documentary, The Boat Lift. It’s how they escaped. She’s an amazing woman, resilient and was crying and laughing about her bossiness in getting people on to the boats, saving not just their lungs from the thickness of the death and debris in the air but possibly their lives. Her older son, just five was in kindergarten in Brooklyn, his dad walked across the bridge to get him and until he saw his mom, that poor innocent boy thought she was dead. It’s most definitely worth watching if you are capable. My husband still can not watch any footage, it just brings too much of the emotions of everything he went though.

Here is the film.

Like so many, my friends were homeless afterwards. Months and months of hotel and temporary housing, before they could go back and pick up the pieces. Though the acts of terror, murder, and destruction hold much in memory, there were also countless acts of courage and kindness that day and in the weeks and months that followed.

I feel guilty even wanting to mention my yoga practice in the midst of this, and in all honesty, it was hard to practice today, even, with a rare opportunity to do led intermediate with Sharath, more so than yesterday. On top of this background of samskaras, I had dinner last night with two childhood friends, one is fighting brain cancer right now, while the other is watching her mom suffer through the last stages of COPD. It’s sometimes only possible to just offer love and and ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Life can change in a flash for any of us.

It was my very first Led intermediate. My nerves were a bit shattered and this was nerve cleansing to a count. I decided to dedicate my energy to my sick friend. I had no expectations of success or failure, just trying. Eddie Stern stopped me before my normal end of pinchu, at bakasana b…I dragged my left big toe jumping into it. It was fine. I was overwhelmed from my own PTSD of 9/11 and how I was feeling about the awful illnesses my friends had thrust upon them as well as the backlash of not normally drinking, yet having more cocktails than usual as I hadn’t wanted to squash my friends imbibing with my nerdy teetotaler yogi ways. Watching the rest of it until joining back in for closing was amazing. I was emotional afterwards, not because I was stopped, but because of everything else. As I’ve processed it more, I’m just impressed I made it through the back-bending sequence and kapo in one attempt (only reaching my toes) without losing my breath completely, as there were no extra pauses. It was my best for today and that’s all any of us can ever do. As for tomorrow? Who knows, but I’ll try again.

Do your practice, all is coming

I went to my first of a weeks worth of led classes with Sharath this morning in NYC. So many people, so much energy! I was in the later grouping, starting at 8:30, we were all talking and fussing about noisily until about ten minutes before we we due to start and then complete silence took over the room. Sharath made a joke, stating not to be quiet on his account, but we were all in that anticipation mode.

Eddie Stern, of AYNY, got up and spoke to kill the time while Sharath drank his much needed coffee before starting promptly at 8:30. Eddie told two jokes…the first: How many Buddhist monks does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to change the lightbulb and one to not change….we all laughed though he said most people don’t. 🙂

The second: there was a priest and a rabbi at the Vatican trying to settle once and for all which faith was better, the rabbi only spoke Hebrew and Aramaic while the priest only spoke Latin and Greek, so they could only use sign language…first the priest held up his pointer finger and spun it in a circle, the rabbi answered back with a firm one pointer finger, next the priest held up three fingers, so the rabbi answered with taking his one finger and pressing it down into the outstretched palm of his other hand, finally the priest held up a fish, so the rabbi in turn held up an apple. At that the priest said, fine, you win, I’m done. He went out and explained to all first I showed him God is everywhere and the rabbi answered distinctly he is here, next I explained God has come to us as the father, son, and Holy Spirit, but he answered there is just God, finally I showed him the miracle of Jesus feeding hundreds from the gospel yet he answered with the original sin of which without, we would have never needed miracles, I had no more to top that. The rabbi came out next and spoke, saying first the priest told me to round up all the Jews and get them out of here, so I responded give me a minute, next he said I give you to a count of three, and I answered, no, we are staying right here. All of a sudden he pulls out his lunch, so I did too, then he shrugged his shoulders and left…we all laughed, and if was again reminded of the lovely lesson that everything and anything can be misunderstood.

Sharath led us beautifully of course, then spoke afterwards about the practice. He said many people confuse the yoga sutras meaning, that chitta vritti nirodahah is not stilling the mind to have mind control, but to calm the mind. That we all flit with our thoughts like a monkey but we should strive to be still like a kuala bear, calmly sitting in the tree. He reminded us it’s all practice. Practice first and formost, 99% practice and 1% theory. It’s never just the reading or even the asana, it’s putting all of it into practice, that is what’s spiritual about it, the yamas and niyamas. As an example he said someone can know their religious texts and go to temple, or church or their mosque regularly, but if their daily life encompasses doing bad things, all their theories mean nothing without practicing trying to do right action❤️

Blinded by the Light

My daughter Dani asked me a few weeks ago one of those ridiculous questions that you really have no right answer for…if you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?

Saying I’m nearsighted just doesn’t quite convey how absolutely blind I am without my contacts or glasses. If you understand amounts, my prescription is -1150 or what I see at about 20 feet away is equivalent to someone else looking at over a third of a kilometer away. As a child, like so many others with poor vision, I had no idea other regular people could see so much better. My older brother wore glasses and I complained to my mother that I thought I might need glasses too. The first eye doctor I saw in forth grade, didn’t believe me when I said I could see nothing on the chart. He chided me for exaggerating and told my mom I just wanted to be like my brother and until I could be honest, he wouldn’t examine my eyes again. Well Dr. Bologna , I wasn’t lying. It took three more years of me fumbling through life before I finally went to a new eye doctor who most definitely grasped just how poor my vision was.

Looking back I wince, not because I was accident prone, though I was, (I was known on a first name basis at the local emergency room.) because there is only so much reaction time when nothing comes into focus farther than a meter away, but because of my lack of sight, I was not very good at sports with balls. These were the days of alpha males in gym class that always picked me last and with a groan or two, pulling me aside, basically saying to just stay out of the way. Tennis and volleyball were comical, I mean really where did that ball come from? Some mysterious place from the far fuzzy reaches on the other side of the net…

Anyway, after the miracle of sight, leaves on trees, seeing the board at school, seeing peoples faces, I was awakened! My nickname in school of “space” because I just daydreamed off out the windows no longer applied. As well, though somewhat shy, I was certainly viewed as aloof or odd as I never had returned smiles or waves but now I saw it all in real time and was participating. My new sight was spectacular, beautiful and vibrant but also dirty and harsh, nothing comes without it’s darker spectrums, does it?

It wasn’t quite up to my level of myopia now, I gradually lost more and more until finally leveling off in my mid twenties. Contacts have been a godsend. I can not see as well with glasses, because of the severity of nearsightedness, I have no real depth perception in glasses and no peripheral vision. I’ve relied on my contacts faithfully and with gratitude, until a few months ago. Sometimes these subtle things just happen, and I have developed a reaction to the silicon in the lenses. (I’m really thankful I never had the courage to get my boobs done, because I can’t fathom the reaction on the inside! ) I keep trying different brands but there are only so many that go up to my strength…so glasses it’s been mostly. I’m not purposefully vain about it, but they do make my eyes look five times smaller than they are, sigh, and even with ultra thin lenses, they are still pretty thick. I also can not practice yoga in my glasses, it’s impossible. They slide off and distort from the very first down dog, so I’ve been practicing blind.

Nothing comes into focus until it’s about a hands width away from my eyes at this stage. Colors fade just as much as shapes. On the bright side, there can be no visual distraction while I’m practicing, because I can barely make out my own hand. Drishti is awesome if sometimes blurry, and I realize how much reliance I have had on sight, yet conversely have learned how much my mind sight can work in it’s place if I trust it. Muscle memory and knowing how an asana feels.

Balance is the biggest challenge. Without sight, there is no true focal point, at least with my eyes. I by no means have perfected my balance even when I see, but I’ve been learning to “see” with my other senses. The feel of being in samasthiti, of finding a plum line, it’s hard not to depend on sight when it’s available, but equilibrium and distribution of weight really don’t require any sight, at least outwardly. Comically it’s when I remember that I can’t see that I wobble and lose my steadiness. Trusting, the same way I trust that my glasses are exactly where I left them, or that no one rearranged the furniture allow me freedom to move. Whether it’s instinct or mind sight guiding me, there is always a silver lining to the obstacles that trip us up. I find hope in Degas and Monet painting in spite of their vision problems.

As to the initial question? I copped out and said none. As long as I can see light, feel hugs, taste strawberries, hear music and smell flowers, I will. IMG_0748.PNG