Lonely Learning

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

It is May 19, 2020. My daughters’ school has been closed for over two months now due to COVID-19, and I, like millions of others, have been “homeschooling” my kids now for what feels like forever. I am using quotation marks around the term homeschooling because what we are doing really is not homeschooling at all; it is screen-based, technology dependent, largely solitary distance learning, or as I call it inside my own head, Lonely Learning.

Please do not think for one minute that I am ungrateful for all that my children’s school, teachers, teachers aids, and administrators have done for us. They have been, and continue to be, superheroes in every possible way. They have imagined and re-imagined, invented and re-invented new ways to teach, connect, and engage in the midst of an absolute crap situation. I admire them beyond words and am so grateful for every ounce of effort and love that they have put into their jobs.

But the fact remains, this shit is lonely.

And I personally am finding that this particular brand of loneliness never seems to stop revealing itself. It just keeps unfolding: each day a new shade, another shape, a different hue from the day before.

And while I myself feel lonely, I am also feeling lonely for my children. Every time I watch them meet with their class on Zoom or have a “playdate” on Google Hangouts or some other platform that I myself can barely navigate, my heart breaks a little. I am probably being ridiculous, showing my age, and revealing a bit of my own inner Luddite, but dammit if it doesn’t make me sad. And lonely.

In the last post, I talked about letting my yoga be a space for grief and gratitude to hold hands. I think I probably need to invite loneliness to that party as well. And it certainly won’t be the first (or last) time that loneliness occupies a lot of space on my yoga mat.

Especially in my early years of training and teaching, there were times when the loneliness felt overwhelming. It was magnified by the fact that I was never actually alone. I was living in New York City for the first time and constantly surrounded by millions of other people. I had experienced loneliness before, but it was different feeling it in a crowd.

Now there are no crowds. Now I have the benefit of two additional decades of living. Now I am a mother. This is a different kind of lonely. It is a quieter one, a more bearable one, but in many ways a deeper one. It isn’t just my daughters that are tasked with Lonely Learning; I know I have a lot of it to do myself. And certainly this stupid virus has given me the time to do it.

Now I just need to show up on the mat and get started.

Feel free to join me. We can be lonely together.

Gratitude and Grief

Dappled morning light in the yard

It is May 4, 2020. Things are strange. As I am writing this, it is a beautiful spring day outside. Birds are chirping; the morning light is dappling the wet green yard, and my children are just waking up. All this mundane, domestic normalcy in my lucky little bubble, and yet people are still dying in droves from this stupid f*cking virus.

My reality feels so removed from the horrors of the wider world, and my feelings surrounding that fact are a veritable smorgasbord of emotions. There is definitely a fair amount of survivor’s guilt thrown into the mix, but the biggest measures by far are the two G’s: Gratitude and Grief. Capitalization intended.

I am so filled with gratitude that I can barely contain it. I have never been more grateful for my home and my family; for nature and the comfort it continually provides; for dance and for yoga. The love I feel right now for all of these things and so much more is overwhelming in the best possible way.

But I am also grief-stricken. I cannot even wrap my mind around the trauma that so many are experiencing: those who have lost loved ones and likely didn’t get to say goodbye; those who are sick and dying and cannot be near the people they love; those who are caring for the ill and bearing witness to death and suffering on a scale I cannot comprehend.

I am also grieving proximity. I yearn for nearness in the midst of all this distance. And not knowing when the distance will end just knocks me to the floor.

In the past, gratitude and grief have seemed practically like opposites. Gratitude generally feels good; grief not so much. They are two emotions that I just cannot recall feeling in tandem with one another quite the way I do now. I am finding that they both currently need lots of space, and they seem to need it simultaneously and in equal measure.

My yoga practice has been all over the place lately, but for the time being, I think I will consciously try to make room for both gratitude and grief within it. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but I will start by imagining the two of them holding hands. Maybe they will snuggle; maybe they will slow dance. Whatever they do, it will be in close proximity. And I figure if those two can bridge the distance between themselves, then maybe there is hope for us all.

What’s In a Name?

Dear reader,

Thank you for indulging me over these past many weeks as my posts have veered so far from “yoga” that one reader (looking at you, Dad) jokingly suggested that I might need a new blog title.

It is certainly true that lately, every time I sit down to write, it isn’t exactly “yoga” (but happily it isn’t “disenchantment” either) that comes out. During this COVID-y time especially, I am trying to write from as sincere a place as I can, and right now that place just does not have much to do with how best to teach downward facing dog.

I wish I could tell you that my yoga practice has been anchoring me during this crazy time, that it has been a refuge I visit daily to keep me centered. But that would be a lie. The truth is, I haven’t been nearly focused or disciplined enough for that. And yet somehow, I actually feel quite close to my yoga right now. Closer in fact than I have for some time.

When I first fell in love with yoga two decades ago, I remember feeling like everything in my life was in fact yoga. Dancing, laughing, crying, walking, dating, school-ing, friend-ing, daughter-ing –all of it– felt very connected to what I was experiencing on the yoga mat. It was intense but also wonderful. And honestly, I miss it. It was a honeymoon phase for sure, but it was also very real, deep, and beautiful.

One of the things I needed back then, and that yoga provided, was perspective. It gave me a different lens through which to look at my life, and that lens was all about connection. Even the word yoga translates literally from Sanskrit as union and shares the same root as the word yoke. Yoga really is all about connection even on the most basic level of its name.

Back in those early days, yoga helped me recognize the fundamental inter-connectedness of things. It gave me a language through which to start looking at the wholeness of my life and not just its disparate (and sometimes incompatible) parts. Certainly yoga is not the only vehicle for doing this, but it is what I stumbled upon when I really needed it, and I am thankful that I did.

Yoga still does these things for me, but in a quieter way. And I am happy to report that there are more things in my life that also do this than there were when I was a spry young gal of twenty. And wanna know what one of those things is? This blog! It helps me feel connected. Connected to my yoga, to my teaching, and to you, dear reader. So even if I’m not writing about down dogs and warriors and yoga sutras, this whole Yoga for the Disenchanted thing is still for me yoga.

And even though I haven’t been practicing nearly as much or as often as I should, my daily life has felt more centered and connected during this sheltering-in period than it has in quite some time. That isn’t to say that I am not scared and sad and grieving, because I am all of those things. But one thing this awful virus has done in spades is show us that we are all keenly and vitally connected, for better and for worse, and that has made me approach my days in a very different way.

In that spirit I am going to take the annoyingly broad view that even my posts that are not directly about yoga are still in fact yoga. And even if I am not doing as much yoga as I should, I am still engaged in yoga.

So, Dad, all this is to say, I ain’t changing the name of the blog!

Also, Dad, you know I’m just yanking your chain, right? I know you weren’t being serious…

Also, Dad, I REALLY can’t wait to hug the living crap out of you when all of this is over. Thank you for being my biggest fan.

Inheritance

Hellebore from out back

It is April 8, 2020, and my family is on week four of sheltering in place. One of the primary things keeping me afloat these days is the fact that I can step outside into the yard or garden and remember that not everything is complete shit.

I hesitate even to mention my beloved outdoor space because so many of the people to whom I am closest and that I love very deeply do not have the luxury (and yes, it is a luxury) of safely going outside right now. I am talking specifically about my friends and family in NYC who are stuck inside their apartments, managing kids, partners, or going it all alone. I am so blown away by your fortitude, and I admire you beyond words.

Here at my new-ish home (my family and I moved to the Hudson Valley from Queens fifteen months ago), things are starting to bloom. The forsythia has burst open in the yellow-est yellow, the peach blossoms have started to unfurl their pink, and the cherries are on the brink of explosion. The daffodils have already peaked, and the hyacinths are sending out their other-worldly perfume. In short, nature is just…doing its thing. Even while everything else seems to be falling apart.

I cannot describe how incredibly comforted I am by all of this impossibly dazzling yet utterly mundane “business as usual” of spring.

I am also reminded of how indebted I am to the previous owner of our home who planted so many beautiful things of which my family and I are now the beneficiaries. We inherited a rich and beautiful legacy from her that she nurtured, planned, and cultivated over the decades she made this her home. I hope she knows that the love, effort, and time she poured into everything she planted is now wrapping our family up, cradling us in just the way that we need.

Whether we want to or not, all of us are constantly participating in generating the legacy of our own time. The seeds we plant today (literally and metaphorically) will affect those who come after us, for better and for worse. Legacy is an inescapable continuum upon which we all exist in dynamic and shifting ways, and it is somehow both sad and comforting to acknowledge that we most likely will never even know the extent of how our own legacy reaches others in the future.

I wonder what the legacies of this strange and particular time will yield. No doubt they will be varied: some beautiful, some horrific; some creative, and some destructive. But maybe just acknowledging that we are always in the process of generating our own legacies, as well as inheriting those that came before us, is enough for the time being.

For all my loved ones stuck inside, I can already tell you that one of the fruits of your legacy will be resilience. It will be other things as well for sure, but from the perspective of this lucky duck who gets to step out into nature when I feel the crushing weight of despair, all of you are heroes of the highest order. I love you, and I can’t wait to play outside with you when all of this is done and dusted.

I have inherited so much in my life that it is staggering. It is also humbling. I only hope that whatever legacy I manage to leave is half as rich as the ones I have benefited from. My family, my friends, my teachers, my students, my ancestors and predecessors of every stripe: I feel you holding me now more than ever, even through the distance mandated by this sad, strange time. Your legacy sustains me.

Tulips on the brink of opening

Timelessness

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It is April 1, 2020. My family is in our third week of sheltering in place due to COVID-19, and I think it is safe to say that we have all completely lost track of time.

We struggle to remember what day of the week it is; bedtime for my two young daughters has become so loose that it is practically non-existent; minutes bleed into hours which somehow become days and then weeks with the slipperiness of water on a mossy rock. And although our days do have a certain rhythm, they are in many ways timeless.

I realize that I am in a position of extreme privilege in uttering those words. My family and I are all healthy. None of us work jobs that require us to be in harm’s way day upon day. We have a home, and we have each other. All of these are gifts beyond measure, and I do not take them for granted for one second. They are the foundation that allows us to dwell in this semi-timeless space for now, and God-willing, the foreseeable future.

The experience of timelessness comes as a complete and utter shock to me as someone who generally struggles with rushing and cramming everything I possibly can into the space of a single day/hour/minute. Ironically, this was the subject of some of my recent blog posts (You Can’t Rush Asparagus and Take Your Time). Little did I know when I wrote those posts that a global pandemic was just around the corner (well, it was already happening in fact, but I just didn’t know it) and that is was fixing to turn the very concept of time on its head.

I find the feeling of timelessness that this whole thing has created both beautiful and terrifying. It has a spaciousness to it that seems endless, although I know logically that it is not. Still, it feels like an act of faith believing that it won’t be like this forever. And it feels like an act of courage to allow myself to live fully within this stretch of time when so many others cannot.

I am turning forty tomorrow which seems like an odd thing to do right now, especially when time feels so unreal, when a day and a decade don’t seem all that different. I am finding myself in the head space of not rushing towards forty nor running from it. I’m just sitting here in the middle of time which, strangely, is a place I have been trying to get to for most of my adult life. I just wish it hadn’t taken a global catastrophe for me to finally figure out how to do it.

I’m curious how others are experiencing time right now. Do you find it as elastic as I do? That it can expand and contract in nearly infinite measure? That its very definition has shifted in some ineffable way?

I hope that wherever you are at this singular sacred moment of time and however you are experiencing it, you know that you are precious, you are whole, you are loved. And that, my friends, is not an April Fools joke.

Lullaby for the World

It is Monday, March 23, 2020, and it just started snowing outside. My family is starting our eleventh day of sheltering in place because of COVID-19, and all of us need a lullaby.

I am reading now of all the pregnant women who will give birth without the presence of their partners or any companion at all, and I want to weep. I picture them holding their newborns and cooing in their sweet little ears. I picture them exhausted. I picture them scared and ecstatic in equal measure. I picture them traumatized and also in love.

I want to sing those women a lullaby, tell them that is ok to sleep, to weep, to feel joy and despair. I want to say those things to myself, to my children, to the whole damn world.

I want to sing a lullaby to all the fathers who will miss their baby’s passage from womb to world. Who want nothing more than to clumsily figure out how to swaddle a newborn. Who want to kiss their partner and marvel at her strength.

I want to cradle all the grandparents whose yearning for their children and grandchildren is a bodily function, as involuntary as digestion.

I want to sing a lullaby to the whole freaking world and all of us in it who are scared, overwhelmed, sick, and in pain.

I don’t really know what the tune would be or the words that would bring it to life.

But I do know its simple and endless refrain:

You are loved; you are loved; you are loved; you are loved.

Heroes

photo by Susannah Biniaris

In yoga, there is a pose called virasana, which translates into English as hero pose. I’m doing it in the picture above, and you will notice that I need propping up to do it safely. Without those props, my knees can’t take it. Without those props, I would eventually break.

The fact that my own hero pose needs props seems appropriately metaphorical just now since all around me I am seeing heroes everywhere literally propping up daily life as we know it in the midst of the awfulness of COVID-19.

For real, I have never seen so many heroes in my life. I guess they were always there, and I just didn’t recognize them, but dammit there are so many I see now that it is mind boggling. In fact, it is quite possible that you (yes, you dear reader!) are one of those heroes! I’m talking about:

Doctors, nurses, home health aids, pharmacists, research scientists, anyone in any facet of medicine, and every single caregiver out there in any capacity, I am so grateful for you that I don’t have the words to describe it. You are truly heroic.

Every teacher, professor, educator in the world who has had to immediately figure out how to change their entire way teaching, I bow to you. You are incredible.

Every cashier, shelf stocker, store manager, store employee of every ilk, I see you and I thank you with every ounce of my being.

Every public servant who is helping to maintain order in a chaotic situation, I appreciate you so very much.

Every parent who is suddenly trying to figure out how to manage your child’s social, emotional, physical, and educational needs while juggling the rest of your life as well, I FEEL YOU SO HARD! And I know that what you (we) are doing is so vital. You (we) are heroes, too.

Every truck driver and freight carrier who is hauling all the sundry items upon which our daily lives depend, you are heroic. We could not do this without you.

Every artist/entertainer/anyone in the gig economy, this shit is so terrifying I can’t describe it. Living in the midst of fear and uncertainty is a herculean task. I hope you can see the hero that you are.

Every single one of my family and friends for putting up with me, loving me, comforting me. You are my everything, true heroes one and all.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I know that I have left out legions of other heroes. My own words here feel completely inadequate. But to all the unsung heroes out there keeping us afloat during this bewildering time, I see you; I thank you; I admire you beyond words.

Feeling Love, Sending Love

Today is March 16, 2020, and I feel so much love right now I can hardly take it.

This is my first day of homeschooling my children due to sweeping school closures across the globe in response to the Coronavirus. And we are all still speaking to one another! So that is something.

No. In truth, they have been wonderful and incredibly grounding for me during this whole thing. They have such a greater capacity to be in the present moment and not live in a state of projected fear than I do. They keep bringing me back to right here, right now.

I know that this whole crazy thing will be a constant roller coaster of emotion, but for this one single second for me, the overwhelming emotion I feel is love. So I am going to let myself feel it. And please know that I am sending it to you as well.

And now I have to go because the time slot that the girls and I have devoted to writing in our new-fan-dangled homeschool schedule is coming to a close.

Stay strong. Be well. Know that you are loved.

Distance

My dog and some flowers in the yard. This has nothing to do with anything, but it makes me smile. Hope it does the same for you.

Today is Friday, March 13, 2020. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and there is the very distinct feeling that the floor is falling from under our feet. This is a strange, confusing, terrifying moment, and all I want to do is hold everyone as close as I possibly can.

But for now, closeness (at least with those outside the household) is not the protocol. For now, we need distance. Social distance to be precise. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me that is really hard.

I had never heard the term “social distancing” until a few days ago, and now it is ubiquitous. When I first heard it, it made me think about all the different types of distance there actually are. Physical distance, emotional distance, temporal distance, geographical distance. And then when I started thinking about these things, I noticed I was filled with a strange feeling that I can’t really name. It was like longing and homesickness and melancholy all rolled into one. I felt like a child separated from my mother. And the only thing I wanted was to close the distance and run back home.

This afternoon I was in the yard with my six-year old daughter. She was playing in her own little world, and I was doing some yard work about ten feet away from her but not in her direct line of vision. Out of nowhere she looked up and said, “Mama?” with more than a hint of concern in her voice. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “I just wanted to know where you were” and went back to playing.

This exchange gave me pause. The physical distance between us was practically nothing, but she still needed the reassurance that I was there. For a brief little flash, the distance scared her.

Distance scares me too. It makes me feel like I will be abandoned or forgotten. Distance makes me insecure about how people feel about me, whether they want me around. It triggers my inner tween monologue; “People are distant from you because they don’t like you.”

And here we are at this strange moment, where the loving thing to do is to give one another distance. It feels so foreign and counter-intuitive to me, and yet I know that it is necessary. Truth be told, there are plenty of times in my life where some distance was called for, and I was incapable of delivering it. Maybe one small upshot of this whole thing is that we will all get better at allowing some distance when it is needed. And maybe we can figure out some new and creative ways of loving and connecting across that distance.

For now, I just want to hug all of you through these words on a screen. There is distance between us, but it won’t last forever.

All things in their season

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

I turn forty exactly one month from today.

I never thought I would be one of those people who gave the milestone birthday very much thought, but (surprise!) I was wrong. I have been thinking about it a lot for quite some time now.

I am very lucky that in my professional life I get to work with people of practically every age. Many of my yoga students are twice my age, and I regularly dance and perform with people who are half my age. I also teach and mother elementary school kids, so I am constantly reminded that age, like practically everything else in the universe, is a spectrum. And if we are lucky enough, we get to hit a bunch of different points along the way.

But forty does feel significant. The number itself certainly carries a lot of weight. Biblically speaking, there are forty days in the wilderness, forty days of the flood, forty years of wandering the desert. A google search also revealed that -40 is the only temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same. That probably has nothing to do with anything, but pretty cool, right?

But let’s be real.

Generically speaking, on some level most of us probably consider the average life span to be eighty. And once we cross the forty threshold, we are closer to our death than to our birth on the timeline of our lives. We are no longer the oldest of the young people; we are the youngest of the old, officially closer to grave than cradle.

This brings up two big things for me. The first and biggest is looking at my own mortality. It shouldn’t really take turning forty for me to do this, but the number certainly has provided a nice frame for it. I doubt that I will ever get to the point in my life where I am not afraid of dying. But I sure as hell am not going to live in denial of death.

For at least a decade prior to her death last summer, my grandmother, Lois, had her headstone placed at her grave site, fully etched with all her details except for the date of death. For years, she was able to visit her own grave and see where she would lie beside my grandfather when her time came. This came naturally to her, and I don’t think that for one minute of her 93 years did she ever pretend death didn’t exist. After all, she was a nurse, lived on a farm through the Great Depression, witnessed war after war. Death was always there, and I can guarantee that it didn’t take her turning forty (or eighty or ninety) to come to terms with it. I really, really, really hope to live up to her example.

The second thing turning forty brings up for me is coming to terms with what I have and have not done so far in my life. It is quite easy for me to fall down the mental chasm of all that I should have accomplished by now and have not. The maturity, security, wisdom, and success I should have achieved and have not. The paths I could have/should have/would have taken and did not. But that is a shitty way to live. And even though it is my tendency to go there (and I mean really GO there, wallow, flail, etc), I am going to work hard not to. As I knock on forty’s door, I am trying to stay as committed as I can to this singular, present moment of my life, and not ruin it by rushing ahead to the future or torturing myself over past paths not taken.

In considering yoga as it relates to these two things (accepting mortality and being fully present), it strikes me that savasana, corpse pose, is an ideal space to practice both simultaneously. For those unfamiliar with yoga, every class ends with corpse pose. This is where you lie on your back, eyes closed, and do absolutely nothing. You quite literally, take on the shape of a corpse. For some, it is bliss; for others, it is torture. And for the rest of us, it is a weird combination of both. Savasana asks you to let go; to relinquish control, to ease your grip. It also reminds you, in a beautiful gentle way, that one day you will die, that your body will become a corpse, and that it will break down into the earth as all things eventually must.

In asking us to do nothing, savasana is actually asking a great deal from us. Perhaps its greatest demand is stillness. It asks that you lie down right in the middle of your life, drop into the ground beneath you, and do nothing. What better way to practice being present and not running away could there possibly be?

To close, I thought I would share a poem I banged out this morning. I love writing poetry but don’t share it all that often, so here goes nothing. Its title is the same as this post.

All things in their season

Each year at winter’s close/ I long to see things in blossom/ Shooting forth in small green trumpet/ From cold hard dirt beneath/That is ready only for crunch not crumble/Too hard still to let soft new life push through.

Each year I want these things too early/ In a time that is not yet theirs/ And part of me quakes at the fear that it never will be.

Each year my faith questions/ The season for shoots and blossoms and brand new things/ My annual forgetting that these can come only in their very own time.

I question my own season/ Just when and how my time will come/ To crunch and crumble/To let something new and green emerge/ Something that has been waiting so long underground/ For the soil to soften and give way/ To life unfolding/ Whenever and however/ It must.