Beginning Again

Photo by bhuvanesh gupta on Unsplash

Today is September 14, 2020. It has been three months since my last post, which feels to me more like three years or three days depending on the mood. Sometimes, it feels like both simultaneously in these bizarre COVID times.

I trust that I am not the only one for whom the whole concept of time has dramatically shifted during this pandemic. In some ways this shift has been very freeing. I’m hardly ever in a real rush anymore (rendering this previous post moot), and my days and weeks just sort of chug along.

But I have also found the shift in experiential time unsettling. Time has seemed so unwieldy during this whole thing, so lacking in the normal daily markers of work and school schedules, of pick-ups and drop-offs. And so uncertain as to the great and looming question: when will this whole thing ever end?

However…

School has begun again for my children (albeit in a very different form with masks and distancing), and it feels so very comforting to me; like one of the biggest pillars of our family’s life has returned, one that shapes our day and structures our time. I recognize that I am extremely privileged that this is my reality, and I do not take it for granted for a single second. I have never in my life felt so floored with gratitude for the teachers, administrators, and staff that have moved heaven and earth to create a safe space for my children. I am so moved by their dedication, and so awed by their unceasing efforts.

Although it has been decades since my own school days, the start of each fall always feels to me like the beginning of something new; like I have moved up a grade in life if not in school. My hunch is that most people feel this, if only slightly, and I really hope that it doesn’t diminish with age. It’s a great feeling.

This fall in particular, everything feels new since, well, it is! Each day we are dipping our toes into a new normal, and each week that “normal” changes a little bit. No one has done this before, and we are all figuring it out as we go along. Right here, right now, all of us are complete beginners.

It is scary, exciting, and humbling to be a complete beginner at something. And I can’t help but think it is also really good for our souls.

Yoga is a great space in which to practice being a beginner. The very first Yoga Sutra translates simply as “Now, the teachings of yoga.” Yoga is all about driving into the experience of now and whatever that entails. And because of the inherent nowness of now, that is constantly changing, constantly new, and constantly starting over with each and every breath.

If we really dig into our yoga, we challenge ourselves to step up to the first sutra each and every time we practice. We allow ourselves to be a beginner every time we step onto the mat, even if we have been practicing for a lifetime. We commit to not looking away from the now that is actually here, even if we wish it were different. And with each passing day, we allow now to change, to evolve, to become something new. Living the first sutra means acknowledging that we are starting over (or at least have the potential to start over) each and everyday.

Having not written a post in so long makes me feel like a complete beginner at this whole blog thing. And just as I said before, it is scary, exciting, and humbling. Thank you for holding my hand through it all. Thank you for reading my words and letting me be a beginner. I am so grateful that we are in this together, beginners one and all.

Ahimsa: Reckoning With Our Own Violence

Red-tailed Hawk

Last week a red-tailed hawk killed one of our chickens. My husband watched it swoop down, rip the hen’s throat from her body, lift her slightly aloft, then drop her down to die in a puddle of her own blood. The hen was young, not yet three months, and was an easy target for the hawk. She had lost that fight before it even started.

Although the scene was bloody (and sad), I wouldn’t call it violent. After all, a hawk needs to eat, too, perhaps even has babies to feed. The hawk was doing what evolution and instinct demanded of it.

The violence didn’t come until after the killing. And it came from me, not the hawk.

When my husband told me what had happened, I went outside to survey the aftermath. I saw my sweet little bird in a lifeless pile and that son-of-a-bitch hawk perched in a tree nearby waiting to come back and swoop up its feast. If I were a decent person, I would have walked away and let the hawk come get its dinner. After all, it was my fault for not having already installed a flying predator net over my chicks. If I had let the hawk be, at least my chicken’s life would have fed another bird as nature and the food chain prefer.

But that is not what I did.

Instead, I found the biggest rock I could and launched it at the hawk. When that did nothing, I did it again. And again. And again. I wasn’t trying to kill the hawk, nor could I have. The thing was a beast! But I was pissed. It had killed my bird, and I wanted it out of my sight. I started yelling, cussing, and acting a general fool until the hawk finally flew off, probably more out of confusion at my behavior than anything else. My husband retrieved the chicken carcass, tossed it in the woods, and sweetly informed me that I had been lobbing rocks at a protected species.

Honestly, at that moment I didn’t care. And if I am being totally honest, I had the conscious thought, “No one saw me do it,” as though that made it better. The fact of the matter is, I reacted violently and out of anger, not for any constructive purpose other than unleashing some pent up rage in the guise of avenging my chicken’s untimely death. Ridiculous, right? Comical.

Except for really it is not.

In the course of a few seconds, I switched from normal ho-hum Lauren to an enraged would-be hawk poacher. I allowed myself to repeatedly try to pummel an innocent animal because it had taken something from me. It hurt my chicken, and that hurt me. I deserved to hurt it back! And here I am calling myself a yoga teacher. Sounds pretty yogic, right? Luckily I have terrible aim.

My point in telling this story is not to make some sort of absolving confession. I am telling it for one reason only: to call attention to my own capacity for violence. And that capacity isn’t mine alone; it is in all of us. It is always there, always a possibility, and whether we like it or not, none of us are immune to it.

Watching video footage of George Floyd being murdered, his neck crushed under the weight of a non-plussed police officer with his hands in his pockets, has shaken me to my core. How can violence like that come to pass? How could any person do that to another human being? How could his partners not have pulled him away? How? How? How does this happen?

But at this point, those are ridiculous questions. At this point, the real question is how could I possibly be surprised?

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Stephon Clark, Tony McDade, David Mcatee, Donnie Sanders, Isaiah Lewis, Michael Dean, Dreasjon Reed, Atatiana Jefferson, Josef Richardson, Ryan Twyman, Tony Green, William Chapman, and countless, countless more.

These people are a miniscule fraction of the numbers of Black lives ended through the unspeakable, unnecessary, and inhumane violence that is such a horrifyingly common occurrence in this country. Violence lives at our very foundation. From wiping out indigenous populations upon arrival to building our nation on the backs of slaves, we are a violent nation. We are other things too, for sure. But pretending we are not violent is delusional. Pretending we are not violent perpetuates more violence.

In yoga, there are principles to live by that are called yamas. One of these is ahimsa, or non-violence. A pretty good example of ahimsa would be, “If a hawk kills your chicken, don’t throw rocks at the hawk.” Clearly, I have a long way to go.

And our nation has a long way to go, too. It isn’t enough for me (or anyone) to just say Black Lives Matter, be sympathetic and empathetic, label myself an ally, and be done with it. Hell, no. That doesn’t even come close.

First, there has to be a widespread Come-to-Jesus moment, a real reckoning with the fact of our own violent tendencies; we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and recognize our own violence.

And then?

We have to change. And we have to work and work and work to be better, cognizant of the fact that the work will never end. But that is what ahimsa is. It is working your ass off to live in a way that isn’t violent, that doesn’t inflict pain, that doesn’t threaten, or bully, or belittle, or choke. Ahimsa doesn’t look away from violence, it looks it square in the eye and dismantles it.

I think, pray, hope, beg that we as a nation will be able to dismantle it as well. We have such a long way to go.

The very least I can do is work to dismantle it in myself until my dying day.

And the moment I start feeling smug or self-satisfied in my labels/politics/identity/affiliations, I can remember that I am someone who throws rocks at hawks, and I too have a long way to go.

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.