The Undiscovered Country

I don’t know if other countries allow medicines to be advertised as freely as they are in the USA, but it seems every time the tv is on there is some ad for something that cures or treats some terrible affliction, like restless leg syndrome. What I find most remarkable is the list of side effects, read quickly so that maybe you might not think much of these bizarre complications like uncontrollable gambling or sexual urges. The fact that these potential oddities are included, makes me wonder, just how many poor hapless souls lost their fortunes or morals before the correlation was figured out? Just how many test subjects count, to make the warning? 

I thankfully don’t have restless leg syndrome, but I did have the flu, and some minor complications from it, the walk in clinic prescribed me an antibiotic. Four little pills changed my life last week. Four doses of levaquin. Here’s the FDA’s warning box about it.

Tendon rupture or swelling of the tendon (tendinitis).
ā€¢ Tendon problems can happen in people of all ages who take LEVAQUIN. Tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones.
Some tendon problems include pain, swelling, tears, and inflammation of tendons including the back of the ankle (Achilles), shoulder, hand, or other tendon sites.

So, that happened, rather abruptly, painfully, unexpectedly, to me. I haven’t been able to walk in over a week. It is still unknown what my recovery will be, from a stand point of can the tendons regenerate and heal, or was four pills enough to cause permanent damage. Regardless, I have 5-6 weeks of extremely limited movement based on my hospital stay last weekend, and follow up with an orthopedist and amazing infectious disease antibiotic expert. I let the pity party last a week, no shame, I needed to cry, let my frustrations and fears get out instead of fester. Practice has taught me more than anything else, to accept myself when I’m vulnerable, when I need help, because nothing makes you stronger or more capable of compassion, than allowing compassion for yourself. That knowledge has been a a great gift. 

So I’m no longer wondering if I’ll be able to come back up on my own in karanvandasana when Sharath is in New York next month. I don’t know if I will even go, except to watch, if I’m allowed šŸ™‚ I’m not quite sure when I’ll be standing in samasthiti or holding a down dog again…it depends on when and how I heal, if my tendons rupture, if they unravel. I sure hope not, I hope they are mending.  But what I do know is this, I will be at my son’s high school graduation cheering him no matter if I’m in a wheel chair or crutches and I will get on my mat again. I will try. I don’t know what my practice will look like. What does that even mean? I obviously work at my asana, that’s just my wiring, I want to figure them out finding stability and ease though alignment synchronized to breathe. Quite frankly I never know how I look. Is my correct, correct, and what is correct exactly? I just know how I feel, when it’s aligned,  tristhana, breath, bundhas, and gazing point, making magic. 

So I plan on trying to make some magic, modifying creatively, with some advice from sports medicine experts, with mindful intent that this is a practice for life, done to enhance my life, not to live for practice, much less a picture perfect one.  I may cry, I may laugh, I may get scared,  I may heal, one breath at a time. I just know that I will try, with compassion. The possibilities are endless. 

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The only thing to fear, is fear itself.Ā 

Long ago, when my first baby, was still learning to walk without a wobble, I was semi sleeping resting on the couch after a very long day alone with my sweet baby. I hadn’t yet fully taken in the lesson that day’s can be long, but time in those innocent moments is so short, I should savor it, regardless of the sleep deprivation. My husband was away on business and I was missing him, longing for, not just his companionship, but teamwork with the young one. Single parenting is hard, especially when you’re a young novice. 

So there I was, eyes closing, letting go of conscious thoughts as I was too spent to shift to my bed, when suddenly I heard a loud electronic BAA right behind me. I startled awake wondering as I glanced around if I really heard anything. The couch was in a curved shape, big and cozy for a New York City apartment. I liked the curve as I could store things behind it, the clutter of large plastic brightly colored toddler gadgets had become my latest decorating style, but I hadn’t fully adapted the look, so I liked to pretend it wasn’t there, hence behind the curvy couch for my feigned feng shui. I decided I had dreamt the noise, my baby was quietly sleeping ( so shocking at that stage!) as was my dog, it was just a nightmare of weird sounds, so I shook my head, repositioned and closed my eyes, again, a loud BAA! Oh. My. God. My heart almost lept right out of my chest with fear, how could this be happening? It was coming from right behind me, as was the hallway to my front door. My imagination had completely taken over, as I envisioned a psychotic 6’4″ killer standing right behind me, machete raised overhead to strike while he pressed on the sheep button at the kiddie play table hidden by the curve in the couch. 

I have no idea, how I didn’t have a heart attack, or how long it took me to get the courage to look behind me and peak behind the couch. There was nothing there except the big plastic garden containing the farm play table. I’m pretty sure, in looking at the buttons, my realization that the table had a a moo, quack, oink, but no BAA, helped me reach around and grab it. I turned it upside down to the on/off buttons, where in small print, it clearly said, when the batteries need replacing, a curtesy sound of sheep will play randomly. I closed my eyes in relief while manically laughing over the fact Mr. Clean hadn’t broken in to torture me with inane eclectric animal sounds before hacking me to pieces. 

Why do I share this insanity? What is the significance? Well it’s ridiculous and funny, but it also shows just how potent fear can become. Fear can paralyze and take away all rational thought, fear can be stored from past moments and be triggered as if it’s happening again. Fear can make us believe we shouldn’t try, fear takes our breath away if we let it. Fear sucks big time. 

I did turn around though. I did get the courage to look,(though in that time lapse perspective of fear, it could have been a ten second pause or two hours, I’m fascinated how time gets warped with adrenaline) and see it was all just smoke and mirrors of one too many Steven King or Dean Koontz novels in my youth. My chicken little moment of panic had passed. I still see that same fear rise in me, at times. A blessing of my yoga practice, is that my body and breath awareness lets me feel it more mindfully now. No, I haven’t found a magic switch to make it just disappear,nor should it,  but I can at least pause more now, even when my body still physically reacts, I can take a compassionate approach and grasp better choices, with more realistic odds of truth.

This past winter, I walked in on a couple of guys robbing my house at 10 in the morning. It was shocking, it was scary, but they ran off without hurting me or my dogs. They broke a cabinet and my feeling of safety briefly. The police were wonderful, I was surprisingly calm. It was a Thursday and I thought a nice Friday led Ashtanga primary would be just the ticket to soothe my rattled soul. I was mistaken.  Don’t get me wrong, I went through all the right motions, it was right to be there, to try, but my breathing was on high alert, stability was an elusive joke and savassana was a torturous attempt to be still and relax… My body couldn’t release the fear yet, I had used up all its coping mechanisms the day before. 

Because we are all human and have bad days, my teacher, a dear friend, stopped me as I was leaving and  yelled at me for not even trying to surrender my breath during rest. I don’t think yelling at someone to rest is beneficial.   I was so stunned by his anger, I couldn’t explain what had transpired the day before. I just simply stated, I did try, I tried really hard. I’d love to say we recovered from this horrid moment in time, but alas, with a culmination of closeness breeding contempt, I left a few weeks later midway through my practice, realizing I had lost trust and faith. There was more to it, as it’s never just one reason, but it was the right decision even though it hurt to do it. I knew I was hurting myself more by staying. I don’t blame either of us, just the circumstances of where we each had been in on our own bullshit, I didn’t even like to practice anymore. 

Communication isn’t always easy when fear is part of the equation, but we can always communicate with prayer, especially the Buddhist Prayer of Forgiveness.

ā€œIf I have harmed any one in any way,

either knowingly or unknowingly

through my own confusions,

I ask their forgiveness.

If any one has harmed me in any way,

either knowingly or unknowingly

through their own confusions,

I forgive them.

And if there is a situation

I am not yet ready to forgive,

I forgive myself for that.

For all the ways that I harm myself,

negate, doubt, belittle myself,

judge or be unkind to myself,

through my own confusions,

I forgive myself.” 

 The practice of yoga transcends individual frailties. I realized I had to put things into perspective and move on. 

I’m back home again, at least that’s how it feels, back where I first started practicing Ashtanga. I’m very lucky to have my first teacher take me in and advise me to just learn to enjoy it again.  It has been very healing, for both my body and mind, like comfort food for the soul. I’m smiling during practice again, enjoying chuckling when I screw something up, knowing the practice will take all the time it needs to find the steadiness, and hopefully now, I will have a bit more patience, and let go of the fear, and take rest. 

It comes and goes

What’s your motivation? Like most people I vacillate between various states, I’d say there are really just two underlying everything, love and fear. When love is in charge, all is good, even when it’s not, because there is empathy, compassion, clarity, understanding, among other positive points, however, fear, though at times helpful, brings out worry, anger, irrational thoughts, impulsive choices, and stress. Firefighters are helpful when needed but they break doors and windows to get the job done…in other words you don’t need to pull out the cannons to get rid of the anthill, keep perspective! 

About three weeks ago, I started noticing a new pain in the top of my hands. It came on suddenly one morning, so badly I couldn’t put any weight into them, especially the right. I couldn’t do a sun salutation at all, and I panicked. I knew aging and my Rheumotoid arthritis could alter my practice, but I never thought I’d lose a basic down dog. It scared me, badly. I mean, seriously, yoga helped me through my worst, first starting out, what could I do without being able to put any weight in my hands? I freaked out inside because if a flare could take away this, I just wanted to give up…..( fear negating rational and compassionate thought!) 

I went into denial on the outside. I wrapped my right hand for support, went back to practice and teaching the next day popping a couple of Advil. But I wasn’t ok, I was afraid. Afraid of losing control, and as a recovering control freak, this was unpleasant at best. I haven’t always been so kind to myself, everyone is their own worst critic usually, and I can admit, my self loathing had been a consistent piece of who I was, until I found peace on the mat and forgiveness in my failures. I clearly remember the first moment that sensation of compassion filled my heart, ( yet even as I write that statement, I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger in my head from The Terminator talking about skynet becoming self aware..lol) it was overwhelming in the best way…yet as a human being, I forgot to remember it’s ok to still fail at times in things we don’t usually fail. Oh the joys of a monkey brain! 

The most remarkable part of this is I didn’t figure out why I was being such a crazed impatient psycho until I was quietly suffering from a massive panic attack during intense turbulence on a flight down to the Caribbean for a family vacation last week. I was breathing through it, knowing the competence of the pilot, knowing the logic of the safety of air travel, when it dawned on me, I wasn’t in control of the plane, just like I felt I wasn’t in control of my illness.  I had forgotten to have faith because I had let fear be my motivator for the past few weeks in just about everything, instead of love. 

What’s funny is about a month prior I had reached out to anatomy guru, David Keil, for insight on how to keep my grips with a crappy pincher grasp due to this on going flare, his response was awesome, but at the time I wanted something more concrete: 

I think you know the answer to your own questions. But just in case you need to hear it from someone else…. Modify as necessary when you’re flaring. More importantly, work on the inner judge who is having a problem with the modifications when they’re necessary. Look at the frustration, which of course is anger. Be compassionate to yourself.

The asanas themselves are not that important, but how you relate to doing them is critical for growth.

Om shanti,

David

Yes, how I relate to doing them. In other words, motivation through love of trying not fear of failing. Thank you David! 

The week away of vitamin D did me well to soothe my soul, relax and let go of the fear…the view didn’t hurt either!  

 

As for practice on vacation? Everyday, nice and smooth, I’m happy to say, with the toughest part in picking where…the tile floor of the hotel room or the “sanctuary” room off the gym, that had the uncanny ability to blast Party Rock Anthem while attempting kapotasana:) I went for the music distractions over the cement floor. 

 

Snapshots

I was looking at some old photographs this morning with my youngest daughter. She was remarking that some of the pictures looked photoshopped, super imposing my face of now onto a small child. I laughed as I’m still me, still that child, just with more life experience and responsibilities.

The majority of the shots were candid, running around at the beach, Christmas with my grandparents, some were goofy, some I’m sure I wanted to tear up at some point. They are all lovingly, comically and, yes, even painfully part of my history. Why is it that we want to edit and revise our less than perfect snapshots? There is a sweet French expression, “Esprit de lā€™escalier.” It literally translates as ā€œThe spirit of the staircaseā€, which refers to all the things you realize you should or could have said after a conversation has ended. I laughed when I first learned this idiom, and thought of all the many times I felt that way. However, hindsight only offers help if we learn not just from the best of what we do, but from our not so pleasant moments as well. Beating ourselves up in self criticism won’t change anything.

Depending on the translation of the yoga sutras you may read, there are a plethora of different word choices coloring the meaning. I particularly like this version of Yoga sutra 3.52 or 3.53. By self-control over single moments and their succession there is wisdom born of discrimination.Let go of the ego, forgo the shame as well as the pride and learn to accept, positive change comes after acknowledgement and compassion. Can there be such a thing as picture perfect? Food for thought….

Samskaras…why does the past haunt us so?

We all have scars, some visible, some not. Some, I think we are able to wear with pride of survival, others, well, it’s not always so easy. About 3 years ago, almost to the day, I was bit on the thigh by a friend’s dog. I have always been an animal lover, I have two dogs of my own. I was just walking up to her door and the dog came out and just attacked me. I knew the dog, had played with him and pet him before, one of my kids spent the night there all the time. It was scary, painful, bloody and unprovoked.

The intensive bruising, two punctures and one inch long rip all healed up nicely. My friend whom I didn’t turn in, felt terrible. I tried to go around Hugo again, but literally shake every time I’m near him, alas, I still tremble anytime I’m around new big dogs now. I wish I could control it, but it’s hard. I’m rational, I thankfully haven’t let my fear overtake me, but it’s there.

In my yoga practice, about a year later, I switched to wearing shorts on the mat. (It makes everything harder for me except garba pindasana, no more fabric to help with my binds!) As I practiced one day, all of a sudden, the faint scars on my right thigh were glaringly obvious to me. It made the memory stronger again. At first I was upset, I wanted it to be the past, I wanted to be able to pet a big dog again without shaking fingers and prayers in my head begging the dog to not assault me. I wanted to not visualize that horrible day. I wanted to be stable! Chitta vritti nirodahah and all. How could I master that?

Compassion. At first, I just tried to pretend I didn’t see the scars, that didn’t work at all. My next approach was repeating a mantra, that helped a bit, but I could still feel the extra adrenaline running through me. I was frustrated. It dawned on me, that I blamed myself, at least partially for the bite. As silly as it sounds, when the bite occurred I was going through a really rough patch, my friend had actually said she thought the dog bit me because it picked up on my vulnerability. It was a ridiculous rationalization and only revictimized me, done to spread the fault away from the dog that obviously shouldn’t be around people. Why is it so hard to own responsibility? I get that now, but at the time, I was in shock and injured.

I decided instead not to dwell on it, but if I saw it, and the fears arose in me, I acknowledged it. I said to myself, it’s ok, it was scary, and thankfully you healed. I utilized what I had learned in meditation. Ask yourself why, exactly, do these thoughts come to you or cross your mind. Don’t push it away but don’t obsess over it either. Observe and examine, but do not make any judgement in the sense of good or bad. Relax. Whatever appears has to be dealt with in your thoughts and emotion. Look with kindness and understanding on your own reality. (This all took place probably in a matter of seconds sitting in dandasana and then drifted subconsciously and consciously throughout the rest of practice) This mindset really works regardless of what comes up on the mat. I had one teacher word it a little differently, but as I was in some turmoil one day, he said, just get on the mat and send your thoughts out to your inner committee, they will figure it out for you. By reacting with compassion, I honestly don’t fear the fading scars anymore, and hopefully new big dogs will get a firm rub from me soon, versus my tentative touch. If all else fails, well, a hand gently placed over the heart can do wonders to soothe and heal. šŸ’œ

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Me and my Luna:-)

Dirty laundry

I have these fantasies sometimes that every bit of laundry is clean and put away exactly where it belongs. I did accomplish it once, a few years back, it was really bizarre knowing that only the clothes on my families backs were not quite pristine. It was a great lesson of impermanence as showers would again be taken sullying up towels and clothes tossed to the floor with dirty socks stolen as treasures by one of my dogs, hidden in the far reaches of every corner of my house.

I set it as a goal after seeing the Dalai Lama speak about compassion. Someone in the audience asked how we could ever get world peace. The Dalai Lama laughed and said, it’s impossible! However, he then got quiet and said, it’s too overwhelming to think so globally, but that we could make these changes in ourselves. Start be cleaning your own house, one dirty sock at a time.

I enjoyed the process as a symbolic effort to find more peace in my own life and microcosm of world I live in. Don’t get me wrong, it was great, for that brief moment that I conquered it all, but my youngest daughter came home from school with chocolate syrup dripped down the front of her clothes, and I’m pretty sure my son had not yet discovered that napkins have a purpose. My big dog has a penchant for rolling in any other animal dung at the least opportune times as well, Luna wants to blend with nature I think. I couldn’t control any of those things, and if I tried to beyond all else, I’m pretty sure the anxiety and angst I would exude would override any aspect of calm peaceful clean laundry.

I had the flu recently, and a horrific side effect was a gross accumulation of laundry among other things. I’m catching up with all of it now. Certainly I had some annoyance with feeling like no one else in the house was picking up the slack, and I very well could have gone off into a tailspin of woe is me, and the usual, I am not your slave bit, but my family all works pretty hard. I did get hugs and tea delivered bedside by my loves. I’d much rather that, than a whole pile of clean linens if I had to choose.

It’s the end of school year mayhem, oldest back home from college with all her massive stuff, finals, concerts, papers, tryouts for next years sports among the regular routine for the two at home and my hubby running his own business and his usual chores. (he grocery shops for me and I hate shopping more than anything!)

I find that when I’m in a rut of any sort it’s easy to start criticizing everyone else, much easier than looking inside at what I could do. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? How do we clean up our own dirty laundry without flipping the judgement switch and turning on compassion instead? I’m pretty sure that’s what the Dalai Lama meant. Work hard, enjoy the process, rest and let it go when you have to, but get back on the path and own it, forgive and move on.

As with asana, sometimes when I first have seen a new posture or tried one, I have thought, no way, it’s just not happening. But, I’ve learned to add to that, I can’t do that….yet. I can’t say with any certainty that I will master a single more asana again, but who knows, there have already been many that I was sure would never be in my repertoire but now I can do. Having compassion doesn’t make it less dynamic or less challenging, but drawing on that while trying does make it more satisfying, even when I fail. Sometimes the answer is to let it all go, briefly, but that doesn’t mean to stop trying and start blaming. So I try. Now, more laundry:-)

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Who says ignorance is bliss?

I really am enjoying the country and culture of India. it is vibrant and beautiful, with hard working industrious people, adorable children and sacred cows that wander everywhere:-) Yet, still very much a developing nation, and the growing pains that exist with all that. As I most definitely am used to first world rich man problems like whether we lay a new pipe line for oil and the pollution it potentially causes. Here, they have almost daily blackouts, some days more than one. None have mercifully been terribly long. It’s just part of life here, overloading the grid in the heat of the mid day not just in a fluke or bad storm. One happened as I was sitting in the middle of a busy downtown restaurant, no one skipped a beat around me. It’s all in what you are used to.

I wrote a post a few days ago, called Welcome to India. I was really just trying to point out how little I know of India and that my street smarts are rusty from suburban living, not that they were ever great. My point was more that regardless of where you are; New York, London, Paris, Munich, Mysore…you should probably not walk up to a white van full of unknown young men as a woman alone, even if they are the friendliest people out there, because in this world we live in, that is not always the case, and better safe than sorry. However, the comments I made were misunderstood by an unknown stranger who chose anger and threats versus open dialogue.

I admit last night I was in fear going to bed, wondering if he really would come here to hurt me. He had briefly succeeded in creating terror in my body, I felt physically vulnerable as he had not just commented on my blog but a friends as well, explaining how easy it would be to find me here and use violence as a means of retaliation of his misinterpretation of my words.

As a favorite scientist and philosopher, Karl Popper, has so nicely put it, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.” But alas, is rage ever the right choice of action? Where does rage arise and why? Avidya, Samskaras and Kleshas. Ignorance, past wounds, and the impediments we create in our desires, aversions, ego, and false knowledge. I have no idea what types of horrors or abuses this human being has faced, or whether anyone has shown them ahimsa, compassion, and if this person is even capable of acknowledging such acts of kindness. As we all can in moments is it just the lowest level of reptilian brain striking forth as protector of territory?

Yesterday in conference, Sharath spoke of being a young boy and seeing a group of either Japanese or Chinese tourists. He was young and naively ignorant of their purpose in his city. It was also rare to see someone so different visiting at that point, at least in the eyes of a child. I think he said one of his friends dared him to go up and say hello to them, but he said he said no, they know karate and might hurt him. It was a funny story of a child’s innocence and avidya bringing out false assumptions and fears.

As we differentiate ourselves more by culture, faiths, race, politics, sex, diet, how much you recycle, do you eat chocolate? at what point do we choose to decide animosity is ever the right option over debate or discourse? When do we allow fear or assumptions to be better choices than asking why? When did clarification questions get tossed aside? At what point do we allow broad ranged stereo types to override the fact that we are equal as human beings, deserving of compassion? There is a difference between being a mother bear protecting your threatened cub and an ornery bear. I would hope that mindfulness could exist to allow pause before reaction when accidentally coming across a mother bear..time to assess a true threat from false knowledge.

Does having compassion mean being friends? No. It means having respect, allowing privacy, natural compassionate consequences, kindness, or just leaving someone be if you don’t get along well. I know this anger and hatred has nothing to do with me personally. I truly wish they understood the word yoga, union, and grasped that there is room for knowledge and the veil of ignorance to be lifted without ever a violent action or thought.