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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sangha Spotlight ~ Karen Caggia ~ Shine On

When my husband and I were house hunting we happened upon a realtor at an open house, with whom we clicked immediately.  She found us our dream house then faded out of our lives until one Friday afternoon when I took my two older daughters to a Family Yoga class at the Prancing Peacock.  There was Karen, our realtor from seven years earlier, teaching the class!  The connection we made when we first moved here remained strong and relevant.  It made sense that the first person we met in our now history-laden home should be the first person I interviewed for this blog.

We agreed to meet at a local breakfast place.  Karen came in with her usual effervescence and infectious optimism.  We greeted each other like old friends, immediately chatting and sharing stories.  Both of us on the path, curious where it may lead and charging forward, hearts wide open.

Curious about her beginnings, I asked Karen what her interests were when she was a kid.  She told me that she was a competitive swimmer when she was younger, though her spirit was less competitive than it was joyfully along for the ride.  She loved every moment in the pool and always felt great when she emerged.  When she finished telling me about how she felt in the water, she took a breath and smiled.  “Yoga feels great,” she sighed while seemingly being washed over by that particular memory and making the current connection.

Through the years Karen experienced her life with big eyes, enthusiastic and curious.  At sixteen, Karen was a lifeguard at the outdoor pool at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.  This four year experience was extremely rewarding and helped to shape Karen’s desire to help and nurture others.  She always believed that motherhood was her destiny, but as a child also entertained dreams of Olympic swimming or possibly becoming a famous criminal attorney.  While the shape of our childhood dreams may change form over the years, we bring our particular talents and sensibilities with us, however they manifest.  

Karen took a Yoga class when she was 28, but her aerobics-mind took over, leaving her to feel that Yoga wouldn’t be able to keep up with her.  “I guess I wasn’t ready to receive it at that time in my life,” Karen reconciled.  That was a time when she didn’t realize the value of slowing down, so never even stayed for the stretching time at the end of her aerobics classes.  She enjoyed life’s party, married and had three sons.  

In her mid-forties she spent summers at a swim club where she and her friends would talk about trying Yoga.  They talked about it a lot.  Then, Karen decided to do it.  At 48 years of age, she took her first class (since the one 20 years before) through Pennsbury Adult Education at Makefield Elementary School.  “I actually fell asleep during my first Sivasana,” Karen remembered.  She continued, “Linda Carl was the teacher; her style was so loving and gentle and she helped open my eyes to the beauty of Yoga.”  

In Linda’s class, Karen remembered, “We did Leg Cradle Pose and it brought me to tears.”  When I asked her why she cried, she said, “Rocking my leg brought me back to childhood.”  She had spent so much time taking care of others, including the joyful caring for her  husband and three sons; Yoga gave her the opportunity to take care of herself.   Linda’s class lit the Yoga fire in her belly, inspiring the need to try new studios and teachers, and sample from the glorious Yoga buffet.  

She started visiting Yoga studios all over the local map before discovering her Emerald City.

It wasn’t a Yellow Brick Road or ruby red slippers that led her to her destination, but a soft voice guided by an open heart.  Karen recalls, “It happened on a dark and stormy night when I was driving home from Pennsbury High School with my son.  We were driving down Stony Hill Road when, just near the train tracks, something caught my eye.  I don’t know how I saw it, so small and unlit, in the dark and between the raindrops, but there it was.  Yoga.  A sign for the Prancing Peacock loomed there, receded from the road, calling me.”  They stopped the car and Karen wrote down the phone number.  She called the number, met its proprietor, Liz Connor and connected.  Karen begins this part of her story, “I found a home.”

Karen admits to having some amazing influences along the way, including her parents who instilled a strong sense of compassion in her.  Her mother embodied a spirit of faith and charitable work and her father would ask Karen and her siblings daily, “What have you done for the betterment of mankind today?”  

Karen feels that all of her teachers have contributed their wisdom and love, adding flavor and dimension to her practice.  She is adamant that every teacher at Prancing Peacock, including the teachers with whom she trained, inspire her and bring something new to her practice.  She feels compelled, however, to take a moment to further honor Liz Connor’s presence in her life as a mentor, teacher and guide.  “When I have felt insecure, she has seen something in me that I couldn’t.  She has faith in me when my own faith fails.  She really sees me as I am and has enabled me to begin seeing myself through a wider, more compassionate lens.”  She ends this part of her story the way she began it, “With Liz and at Prancing Peacock I have found a home.”

Practicing now for close to five years and teaching for one year, Karen continues to see her life on this path opening up and extending to others.  She laughed when thinking about her days in Catholic school when the nuns would say they were “called” to their stations of service.  She admits to just not getting it.  As someone who feels she was “called” to this practice, to share it with as many people as she can, Karen now gets it.  “Once I found the mat and fell in love, I understood.”  

Still a professional realtor, I asked her how life has changed personally & professionally since embarking on a life on the mat.  Professionally she said, “Working in real estate can be extremely reactive in many situations.  I often find myself in the role of counselor.  Buying and selling houses can bring up major issues and when you’re dealing with people you are also dealing with their hearts.  Yoga helps me to absorb and not react when things get tense in negotiations.  I can take a step back and be in the moment.  Now, I’m deeply grateful for every job I get and find joy in all I do.  Personally,” she said, “I’m better able to take a breath and take a step back.”

Karen’s enthusiasm for the practice extended to a friend from East Brunswick, NJ, who came down to Prancing Peacock for a class.  “She came down with a friend and I taught a class with just the three of us,” Karen told me.  It turned out that her friend’s family owned a building with a vacant space, suitable for a small studio.  As a result of her Yoga experience, her friend was moved to open a Yoga studio in that space.  Not a regular practitioner, herself, she opened it up to Karen.  Karen feels that, “It has become a blessed opportunity to hone my skills and speak my truth.  While I’m not a shy person, I’m not always comfortable being the center of attention.  Even when I dabbled in theatre, I was always behind the scenes.  What a wonderful place to stretch my wings.”

Yoga is a natural extension of Karen’s open, artistic nature.  She majored in Art in college and lives a life of music.  She loves “treasure hunting” (yard sales) and making unexpected vignettes out of her finds.  She has a side business called, “Ocean Gypsy.”  The name itself honors her love of the water and the seeker within, that continues to guide her.

Those who practice Yoga understand that the path may lead in many directions.  Karen’s long-term vision of her practice goes back to her lifeguarding days with the prisoners at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.  “I would love to go to prisons or shelters for women and teach them Yoga to empower them to know that where they are now is not where they need to be.  I believe it would change the atmosphere of their lives while inside the facility and would nourish the people they’ll become if & once they re-enter the world outside.  I have a friend who is a rape counselor.  I know it would be challenging to get this group of women together, but I would love to share Yoga with them, too.”  

Karen’s love for her husband and children is palpable.  You can feel her gratitude as if it were your own.  “I am grateful to be able to practice and that the practice found me.  I love how life is shaping up and can see it unfolding unexpectedly.  I’m not nearly done.  I hope to have the opportunity to do all the things I have in my head.  I have a lot to do.  This practice radiates out, inspiring us all to Shine On!”

* * *
Karen teaches Family Yoga at Prancing Peacock in Yardley, Pa ~ Fridays at 4:15pm
(click on name for website and information)

She also teaches two beginners classes, Tuesdays 12:30pm & 5:30pm, at Exhale Center for Art & Wellness located at:  223 Route 18 East Brunswick, NJ. (732) 247-6900.

Fun Karen Facts

  • Do you have a favorite pose?  Why?  Fish Pose because the heart space is open wide.  Can’t speak enough about what we do for ourselves in each pose.
  • What is your most challenging pose?  Chattaranga and bringing the leg up in high lunge.
  • Memorable “AHA” moments on the mat?   I had an “OMG” moment early on when I did a split.  From that, I felt that anything’s possible.
  • Do you have a favorite Sanskrit name to say out loud?    Chattaranga Dandasana
  • Do you have any rituals for before/after you practice/teach?  I breathe.  I used to think the “cleansing breath” was funny and a little strange.  Now I revel in it, it’s become ritual.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You! We are all links in this chain.

It's Thanksgiving, a day designed for collective gratitude.  There are those who are regularly tuned into gratitude in their lives while others are not.  Even if you are someone who is mindful and present enough to get this, what makes Thanksgiving different from usual moments of giving thanks, is a national intention.  It’s a day when everything shuts down for the purpose of mindful, ritual gratitude. 

Tonight, I took my regular Wednesday night beginner class and feel like Thanksgiving started tonight.  My teacher, who truly inspires me, asked us to write down five things for which we are thankful and five things we intend to be thankful for throughout the next year.  For the purpose of this entry, I will list them here:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Life’s abundance
  • Being on the mat
  • Getting the cosmic joke

  • Surviving and thriving in the wake of life’s challenges
  • The continued health and well-being of my family & friends
  • Growing on and off the mat
  • The new things that come into my life
  • BeingBreathing.
When I looked at my list before tucking it under my mat, my first thought was, of course friends and family, and then realized I had written them down almost automatically.  Later, when I returned home, I looked at the list again.  This time, I really thought about my family, each member for who he or she is and was overwhelmed with feelings of awe and love.  They are amazing models of love, compassion and commitment who have been part of shaping my world, some since my birth and others since their births.  Then, images of various friends began to pop into my head & heart, bringing with them their own stories of adventure and inspiration.  I went down the list and visualized each item in the context of this great gratitude and the words began to breathe.  

However you spend this day or feel about its mythology, there is something powerful in the number of people, links in this great chain of gratitude, who will be participating.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Life's Floor Boards

When I took piano lessons as a kid, my teacher told me I had to learn the classics before diving into rock & roll.  This, she implied, would provide me with a foundation from which I could do anything.  In a similar spirit, one of my mother’s parenting philosophies (which I know was not unique) was that it was their job, as parents, to give us roots so we could one day sprout and exercise our wings.  I always really liked that image.

I live in a neighborhood which is home to many trees that were part of William Penn’s original nursery (so I’ve been told).  Walking through the intertwining & interconnecting streets, one can tell the ancient trees from their younger counterparts.  The variety of flowering & non-flowering trees, their shapes & sizes and many shades of green give expression to the flora foundation of this character-rich neighborhood.  It’s hard to believe it all began with a seed.

Our feet are our physical foundation. They are what enable us to move through the world without much thought or notice.  I have a Yoga teacher who tells us that Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Downward Dog are the foundations for all the standing poses and to find stability there first.  This instruction always evokes the image of human roots and the elusive wings that result.  I have definitely noticed increased stability in my body over the years, in these seemingly simple poses, and recognize when they take root off the mat.  The forward bending required to clear the floor of the day’s toys that never got put away, the reach to the top shelf for the hidden chocolate stash or simply standing in line at the grocery store have all found a new place of ease.

When I lived in Manhattan, apartment living required a softer, more mindful approach to moving about one’s home.  After all, every floor, or foundation, was someone else’s ceiling.  Roots and wings took on a different form but effectively shared the same sentiment.  The practical uses of Yoga off the mat took flight with every gentle step.

Occasionally, I honor my feet for their hard work by getting a pedicure (or more likely, painting them myself).  The fresh nail polish reflects a fresh appreciation for keeping me upright and mobile.  But, as so often can happen, I end up taking them for granted.  This is shown in the dull chipping of the toe paint and general “whatever” attitude toward repainting or refreshing.   

I spent the last few months recognizing this behavior in each pose that brought me face to feet.  I’d say to myself that I would take care of it when I got home and then would systematically forget.  Something interesting happened around the same time.  I had always been baffled by the notion of rolling over my toes from Up Dog to Down Dog.  I would try, but it always seemed so unnatural.  I can’t remember what happened first; I removed the remaining polish from my neglected toes and organically began rolling over said toes.  

I tend to have a casual foundation toward many things, which allows me to watch the toe polish gradually disintegrate.  I also have a foundation of trust, which keeps me on a path where anything's possible, even rolling over toes.

What is the foundation that keeps you rooted to the earth?  Upright?  Head in the clouds? 
Able to roll over your toes? 
I'd love to know.

Earth        Roots        Floors        Feet

*I am sensitive to the fact that there are many who are moving through their lives without active use of their feet or legs.  I am extremely grateful for my functioning body and though I would never pretend to be able to name what constitutes their physical foundation, the sentiment is the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Confronting the Boulder ~ Reflections of Sisyphus

Sisyphus was condemned to push a giant boulder up a mountain and once it rolled down, push it back up, for eternity. It took him a while, but he did have his hour of consciousness, that moment when the light bulb went off in his head. What he realized was that no matter how menial his daily task seemed, he had the ability to create meaning with each breath, step and push of the boulder. I too believe that life is not defined by any end result, but by intention, process and heart.

The first step toward meaningful moments is mindfulness. When Sisyphus was in his endless cycle of boulder pushing he was stuck in the habit of the act. His actions remained the same but awareness forced him to include intention and conscious living, transforming that habit into ritual.

I take a beginners Yoga class once a week. It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been on the mat (and off & on), it just seems right to be there. It doesn’t have the flavor of the basic classes I took when I began my practice, likely because I am not the same. What our teacher brings to this class in the way of philosophy, movement & trust is far from elementary.

Basic poses take on a different meaning when broken down and intention is redirected. Not only is the class a beautiful expression of beginner’s mind, it challenges me to further bring meaning & mindfulness to my whole practice, including life off the mat.

On those nights, stepping purposefully into plank instead of jumping back shifts the experience and turns a habit into ritual.

*   *   *

From the Filing Cabinet:  Periodically, I will be posting relics found in the filing cabinet I referenced in the post, Something Old, Something New 11/11/09.  This one seemed appropriate for this post.

Confronting the Boulder

Imagine. You’re moving through your life the only way you know how, when actions or circumstances cause a cosmic glitch. Something happens that is not in accord with the universal harmony of being. The source that allows the Universe its power intervenes with a decree of your eternal destiny. Your sentence is to push the weight of the world up the highest mountain, until immeasurable end of time. No take-out exotic foods; no human touch or sensuality; no warm baths with scented oils; no roller coasters or cotton candy; no literary challenge; no movie popcorn or glamorous celebrity fix; no dry red wine; no scent of cooking garlic; no losing your way home; no awkward kiss good-night; no smoke-filled billiard hall hinting of bourbon and adventure; no pain of loss or heartache; no diversion from the path. No will. No choice. No hope. No distractions. No future.

Imagine the ego-driven notion of the mortal dilemma which dictates that everything comes to an end, that time is fixed, and its end marks the eternal release. The end of a life that seemed to last forever. The finite resolution of a past and future. We are consciously absolved of all the consequences of our decisions. Throughout our lifetimes we may be gifted with the mechanism of amnesia, but the unlearned or ignored lessons of our previous selves remain as integrated (unconscious) memory. The thought of an endless existence is unfathomable.

Imagine your life as it is now, continuing without end, any true growth occurring greater within than without, marking time in a claustrophobic manner. The infinitesimally small notches on the wall, meant to mark an increase in growth, seem daily to fade into the epic shadows of time. A feeling of despair accompanies every moment. The physical, emotional and spiritual have been so woven into a single fabric, they no longer embody any unique structure of their own; they are one. The despair, thus, exists in every movement of the body--limbs, muscles, bone and even the flow of blood in the veins; it exists in the act of thinking or happening upon a notion. The menial shuffling of papers, waiting on tables, answering phones or hocking wares*, seem enviable positions. If only you didn’t have to push that heavy weight...again!

Imagine the daily push to the end of each day, hoping for any unexpected turn in the routine, before realizing that allowing the variables of each day, no matter how subtle, to breathe fresh air into the moments that follow, is to be alive.

*all are jobs I have held

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's in a Name?

In an effort to remain fairly anonymous, I opted to have my name appear as “Administrator” for things relating to this blog. When I saw it appear after a comment I made on someone else’s blog, I realized that it did not represent who I am or my mission in this world. I consulted a friend who is, as a rule, an “out of the box” thinker and while I passed on his suggestion, I was inspired. I Googled a list of Sanskrit Yoga terms, searching for a name that called to me. There were, as I imagined, many compelling names that I felt connected to, but only one that halted me in my thought process. Sakshi, means Witness. I feel strongly that among our many obligations in this life that at the very least, we bear witness.

I saw the towers fall the morning of September 11, 2001, two days after my wedding. The effect was and continues to be life-shaping. Television failed in its regular ability to distance me, as the viewer, from the images it was transporting. I know I was not alone. The city & people I loved were devastated and the bliss of my brand new marriage mingled with the mourning of the world we no longer knew. I was there. Because I was a witness I can pass it along to my children to pass it along to theirs and we won’t ever forget.

The same is true for survivors of any traumatic or elevated experience. To witness is to begin the healing or sharing the joy or simply passing along the information. The examples range from extreme conditions to the banal. It is equally as valuable to witness an elegant expression of compassion or connection as it is to witness acts of brutality. Even to witness an ordinary moment of beauty or plainness is to be alive.

Several years ago I was practicing Yoga next to someone I’d never met. Her practice flowed with a grace that made me take notice. When we were rolling up our mats I felt compelled to tell her how beautiful her practice was. In this simple act of witnessing I felt elevated. Five years later, she is one of my teachers. Weekly, I get to witness her process while participating in the dance.

Part of my mission in even posting these musings is to share observations that may have some universal appeal. We are all witnesses to our lives and the world around us. That is part of what connects us all.

Sakshi. Witness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Something Old, Something New ...

I rediscovered the filing cabinet that houses my many unfinished projects, with a curiosity and relish that has been gathering dust along with the files. Some of the ideas I’ve had over the years still resonate with me, though with a fresh mind may take a different form than originally intended. If you continue reading this blog, you may happen upon them sometime throughout this ongoing story.

That filing cabinet has haunted me for years. The ghosts of characters that have yet to breathe their life into this world & dreams that are yet to be are calling to be fully realized. This is an opportunity to take action and shift my own view of myself. “I am now a person who sees things through.” This may be just another statement to add to my identity. Cool. Setting this intention is part of breaking the old mold and becoming more fully who I am.

I was in Manhattan yesterday, my other home. Walking up Columbus Avenue with my mother and best friend from college, I had a chance to honor who I was when I lived there and take a look at who I am now. Physical memory allowed me to effortlessly jump into the rhythm and stride of NYC’s unique sidewalk choreography. My heart rate increased inviting my new suburban self to join the dance.

My former neighborhood has had many face-lifts in the seven years I’ve been gone. Stores & restaurants that had been mainstays during my Upper West Side life have disappeared and become something other, someone else’s base. Living in the city one sees change happening all the time. The turnover is part of the familiar walk down each and every street. It’s a bit like being with your kids daily, the growth seems gradual. But, when you haven’t seen your city or your child in a while, the change can appear dramatic.

When I left the city, after sixteen years, I made a fissure in my urban self and dared that self to shatter completely. The shards have retained the essential memory of a life well lived and have reformed into something unexpected. When I think about the unmet dreams & goals I had when I moved to the city, like the myriad unrealized projects in my filing cabinet, I sigh and then imagine. The sigh contains the total satisfaction and love for a life that took a different path. Imagination steps in to discover what is on the horizon of dreams.

This is Yoga off the mat.

There are things I will always miss about living in the city as now there are things I’d miss if lived outside the greenery of my current landscape. There are those ghostly characters requiring resuscitation or burial and vibrant ones eager to make their voices heard.

To all the untold & unfinished stories past & present...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

MelodAsana ~ see side glossary

Earlier today I was listening to Joni Mitchell. Certain music is more than a listening experience it is a journey through time, space and self. Her tone and style mingle with her lyrics with such poetry and heart; it’s difficult for me not to respond either through movement or joining her song with my voice. Every note resonates with a memory, feeling or sense of something or someone. I find my own thoughts vanishing or morphing into something relating to the story she’s telling. It is a visceral, basic & internal voyage.

Reggae elicits a more physical reaction, moving me from the inside out. It is difficult for me not to move when reggae is playing. I used to wonder what a reggae Yoga class would feel like. During one of my pre-natal classes my teacher, who knew I fantasized about such a class, provided a reggae soundtrack. I realized that theory & practice don’t always groove. Rather than the music being background breath, it became foreground karaoke. I couldn’t contain myself. My body swayed to the beat and I perfected my Bob Marley lip-sync, smiling with each asana. That’s really great, but it would have been more productive if there were some balance. I seemed to lose my Yoga intention for an island dance.

There is wonderful music that naturally complements the practice with poetry of its own, lending its melodious aspects to the flow. In fact, there are times when I’m fully aware of the music but it nourishes the practice rather than distracts from it. This got me re-thinking the idea of  music-inspired classes (including reggae), where the breath is directed deliberately to the lyrical quality of the practice, using the music as the vehicle rather than a destination. It’s more like a Yoga dance without requiring strict adherence to the beat. For example, while in tadasana, direct the ujjayi breath to find the music in the body, like searching for the internal vibrations of an OM. Joining the spirit of spontaneity with flow, the teacher gives the next instruction while still in the last pose, allowing the music to move the practitioner in her own time. Changes of rhythm in the music inform the pace of movement in the room.

A word emerged as a possible name for this practice: Melodasana. The Sanskrit for music (melody) is saMgiita—according to a Google search. Perhaps saMgiitasana would be more appropriate. Since most poses have an English name as well as a Sanskrit one, we could use both. It is our practice after all and this is, as yet, just a class I’ve made up in my head. So why not play?

Several months ago I took a workshop with a teacher who was full of surprises. The strength of her spirit alone still reverberates in my heart. I found myself smiling most of the time, just feeling grateful to be in that room. Savasana came and we all did our respective rituals to get there. Once down, the familiar melting into the mat began. And then, there it was. The teacher (who may be reading this right now) broke out into song. Not just any song but a beautiful Aria, rich and full. Her voice was transcendent, creating a mini opera that included each and every one of us. The vibrations of that timeless Savasana still haunt me.

I hear things differently when I listen to music that speaks to me. Sometimes nostalgia shapes my thoughts and other times the freshness of a new sound inspires me. In any case, I’m curious how music can be an active participant in my Yoga practice without drowning it out. Whether music is background or foreground, coupled with Yoga, they are equally powerful sources of information that are natural allies.  The long-term effects of music show up in everyone’s lives. Stories are frequently framed around a favorite singer/songwriter or band. The contexts of those stories are often woven into the fabric of the grander picture.

Even in the silence that follows there is music.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wind ~ a poetic commercial break

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, but the wind had other plans for me.  Today's crisp air and colors, crunchy leaves scattering and trees bowing to the wind have been a wonder.  I found this poem I wrote several years ago and thought, if ever, today would be the day to share it.

The music of the wind and trees
echoes softly around the world.
For those who listen, life is full,
for all else it seems unfurled.

There's a constant presence connecting it all
that reminds us we're not alone.
It wakes us in the dead of night
when vulnerability makes us prone.

In the bright light of sun or the mists of rain,
it continues its ancient call.
It lives within; it lives without,
and with no effort affects us all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Who, Me?

I’m not a morning person. But when I worked in production, I was often up at sunrise and have enjoyed numerous early mornings while working other, more normal jobs, as well as, for recreation. They may have been challenging mornings to greet, but were ultimately embraced.

I’ve never liked Amusement Park rides. But when my daughter wanted to go on the swinging chair ride in Ocean City, how could I say no (and potentially pass along my irrational fear)? I went on the ride with her, stomach in my shoes, and laughed and sang the whole way, unsure at first that I would make it.

I don’t eat red meat. But when I was pregnant and craved spare ribs or steak (rare as was the occasion), I listened to that quiet voice and complied. And when I was taken to Nobu for dinner and the waiter asked if I had any dietary restrictions, my response was, “Not tonight.”  That turned out to be one of the most memorable meals I've had.  I can still taste the Kobe beef.

Whatever the inner dialogue, we all have statements about ourselves that seem to solidify into identity over the course of our lives. Where once I found comfort in the labels that defined me (and, in some cases pride), I now feel constrained. While an essential truth may remain within my collection of identifiers, I am free to make choices that contradict them, if they are true in that moment.

Within my Yoga practice, I have always struggled with arm balances and back bends. Every time a teacher would say, Let’s prepare for Crow Pose, We’re going to move our mats to the wall to practice preparation for handstand, or Why not try a Wheel today, my mind would shut down, reminding myself that I've never been able to do it. A couple of weeks ago, I surprised myself. Instead of relying on my past experience, I opted to move eagerly into Crow. I got myself into position and did what I’d done countless times before, with one exception. After I got my first foot off the ground, the other one joined it with some effort. I was there and as soon as I realized that, my mind entered the pose and I fell out of it. The point is, while it took some effort, it wasn’t a struggle. Now I look forward to hearing the words “Crow Pose” and seeing what happens. I’m just a few seconds in flight, but I’ve taken off.

All of this is to say that if life is about learning and growing, it stands to reason that identity, what we lovingly embrace as our personality, must be porous & not solid, flowing & not fixed. In my own efforts toward growing my own mind & heart, I cannot hold myself to the standards of years past to where I am today. All of the above statements describing myself have been negated for what was true in that moment. I’ve become a lot less of a purist as I’ve aged, trying not to confine myself to labels like “vegetarian,” or “slacker.” While I may often fall into these, and many other categories, they are only part of the definition of who I am. I hope to never become a stereotype of myself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sushi & Sake ~ Life's Little Rituals

During a Moms’ Night Out a couple of months ago, the topic turned to raw fish. You know, Sushi, Oysters, etc. We all had our funny stories about the first time we tried sushi or why we never had or what it would take to try it. The results ranged from love to disgust. As I was sharing my experiences, I realized they were less about the fish and more about the process or ritual of eating the fish.

Sure, I enjoy sushi but I love the parts that come before that first bite. Swishing the wasabi & pickled ginger slices into the soy sauce until the wasabi all but disappears and then laying a piece of ginger on each piece of sushi before using the chop sticks to dip each piece into the spicy soy sauce. Pair the meal with a nice warm or cold Sake and the experience is set. The same is true with oysters. When the tray arrives, over ice, with various sauces and a chilled vodka martini, the process begins. Swirling the oyster around in its shell with a sample size of sauce, tipping it into my mouth and continuing the swirling motion until it goes down. I pause, take a breath then I take a sip. The flavors mingle with the ritual to create an experience I love.

There is also ritual to sitting down with a good book. Finding the right spot, getting comfortable and making sure a cup of tea or snack is within reach, curling otherwise un-socked feet under and opening up to the page I always mark with a paper clip. Then it’s up to the story to do its job of transporting me into the author’s world.

I make an effort to arrive at a Yoga class at least ten minutes early. My old mat used to sound like I was unwrapping a piece of candy when I peeled it apart and rolled it out. Now, it’s a smooth roll-out with a less-than-sticky mat (which challenges my down dog, but is thick and pretty pink). I grab a blanket & roll it up so I can sit comfortably with my knees dropping out easily. Then, I luxuriate in a mini meditation, Shambhala-style, before falling into whatever practice the teacher has designed for this moment.

The rituals I mentioned are more flexible processes than hard-fast ritual. The core may be fairly consistent, but the company and ambient sounds, smells and unknown obstacles are bound to change.

The moments before my first Yoga “bite” prepare me for the mix of flavors I will swish around on my mat. The moments following this Yoga buffet allow the experience to digest and become part of me. The meal itself is just yummy.