Making Things

These ladies laid their first eggs this morning. Even they are creating new things.

Hello, dear readers!

So much has happened since the last post. The longest year on record (2020) finally came to an end. And this blog turned one! And I actually have no words for 2021.

But I do have lots of feelings.

They include fear, sadness, and shame. They also include anger, frustration, and disbelief. I don’t see these as “negative” emotions. I see them as the only sane response to the insanity that is the world right now.

I actually hate the term “negative emotions.” And I see it used everywhere: on T-shirts and book titles, on coffee mugs and memes. They tell us to banish negative emotions, to rise above them, to conquer them once and for all.

But emotions are emotions. They aren’t good or bad. They just are. Some feel better than others. Some make you want to run away, while others make you want to stay forever. But all of them have their place. Remember in the movie Inside Out when sadness saves the day? Good things can happen, even out of sadness.

One of the things that is helping me feel better right now is making things. As I watch so much fall down around me, it feels good to create. It allows for joy even in the midst of sadness. It adds something tiny to this great strange world.

I have thrown myself headlong into several projects this year, and I can’t wait to share them with you soon. I am determined to keep creating, and I hope you are, too. The world needs good things right now. And we are call capable of making good things.

I would love to hear about what you are creating if you care to share in the comments.

I’ll close with the best poem in the world. It is my New Year’s gift to you. We can do this, y’all. I know we can.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott (1930 – 2017)

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved

you all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror. Sit.
Feast on your life.

Fog

Fog rising off the Tennessee River

A few weeks ago, I taught my last outdoor yoga class for the season.

It was a wistful, misty morning with fog rising off the damp ground where we had placed our yoga mats. It was the kind of morning that always reminds me of Tennessee, my birthplace and home for eighteen years.

In elementary school, my mom would drive me up the winding roads of Lookout Mountain where a thick fog would sometimes form at the base. As we drove up the steep incline, we would eventually emerge above the fog line, placing us “Above the Clouds.” (I use quotation marks here because the phrase refers to the name of an actual Civil War battle that occurred on Lookout Mountain) In the span of only a few minutes, we transitioned between three different worlds: the world beneath the fog, the fog itself, and the world above.

Years later in middle school, I often started the day sitting on the banks of the Tennessee River. The school I attended abutted the river, and there was this one perfect spot with several benches that I just loved. Most mornings, I would watch the fog hover above the water before “burning off” and dissipating into clarity. It was hauntingly beautiful.

My father is fond of quoting his friend, the writer and theologian Fred Buechner, when he refers to ancient Druids as having a special interest in “in-between things.” He describes fog, or mist as one of those things which allow us “to glimpse the mystery of two worlds at once.” 

I was reminded of all of this when I set up my mat for that final class weeks ago. When we started our initial warm-ups, fog surrounded us. It was grey, and spooky, and gorgeous. As we practiced, the fog lifted, and by the end, it was a clear, bright, sunny day. That single hour had taken us through two worlds at once. The whole thing felt like one giant transition.

Here we are in another transition, hunkering down for what many predict will be a very difficult winter. But winter really isn’t here just yet. We are in the middle place, the fog, the in-between.

There are lots of in-between moments in a yoga practice as well. The way you get into a pose, the way you exit. Settling into class, and departing. That beautiful spot right between inhale and exhale. This is what I am going to focus on during this season of in-between, both in my life and my yoga.

Fog is not an easy place to be, but I will do my best to recognize it’s beauty, its mystery, and allow myself to sit right in the middle of it.

A Season For All Things

Today is October 29, 2020. Where I live in New York, we are firmly into fall with winter palpably on the horizon. The leaves are past their autumnal peak. And there is a distinct feeling that the natural world is slowing its pace even if the rest of the world is not.

One of the many unexpected by-products of COVID-time for me has been a heightened awareness of weather and the seasons. Being outdoors has felt like such a respite, such a sanity savior during all of this. The newness and opening of spring, the hot hands of summer, the earthy coolness of fall: these things have all been active players during this new epoch when so much is outdoors. They have escorted us through this terrifying time and have determined much of what is possible within the constraints of a global pandemic.

And now winter looms, and the rules will change. It will be the first time during COVID where the natural world will echo what we are being called to do for our own collective safety: move inward, seek shelter, hunker down. I can’t quite articulate how I feel about this. Part of me feels sad and anxious, like I am gearing up for a huge loss. But, surprisingly, another part of me feels okay with it, like I am better prepared now than ever before. It is, after all, what we have already been practicing (hopefully) this whole time. Those muscles are so much stronger now, even if much more fatigued.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how magical it was to get back to teaching yoga in-person. And the setting I teach in requires that in-person classes be outdoors, which has also been magical. But I know that very soon those classes will pause as the weather grows cold. And that is a loss. But even this loss makes me more acutely connected to the natural change of seasons. And that is deep and special, indeed.

During class this week, a flock of geese passed overhead. They were high up in formation, alternating between a wavy line and a fluid V. They were loud and beautiful and unapologetic as they headed into new territory, towards new terrain.

All of us are heading into new terrain. So much is shifting beneath our very feet that it feels impossible to take it in. But I have decided to take a new approach when the fear and overwhelm of all that uncertainty sets in; I am going to try and remember those geese whose very instinct compels them to lean into change and do whatever the season requires.

I have no doubt that this season and many to follow will require an inordinate amount from each one of us. But I also have no doubt that we are, all of us, capable of meeting that challenge, even when we feel we are not.

I am capable. You are capable. We are capable. Together, we can lean into change, even when we are apart.

Mundane Magic

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Two weeks ago, I taught my first in-person yoga class since March. It was outdoors, very spaced out, and in a word: sublime.

Quite simply, we were just a group of people, gathered in the grass beside the town recreation center, moving and breathing together. We weren’t doing anything fancy, no complicated poses or intricate sequencing. There was a parking lot to the left of us, the occasional car passing by, and at one point a very loud garbage truck backing up. Mundane for sure. And also, absolutely magical.

Ever since COVID, I have been keenly aware of how desperately I miss everyday social and physical contact with people. Hugs in particular, but also seeing people’s smiles, shaking hands, giving or receiving a simple pat on the arm. Prior to this whole fiasco, I hadn’t really given these small everyday occurrences too much thought. But I am so attuned to them now that I could cry just thinking about it. I really hope I don’t take them for granted once this nightmare is all over.

And truthfully, I had no idea how badly I missed teaching. That first class in so very long was incredibly grounding for me, so calming yet so uplifting. Unlike many of my colleagues, I have opted not to teach yoga remotely online, and I am curious as to whether I would have experienced this same thing had I made a different decision.

For now I am basking in the experience of being able to gather in person (albeit very spread out), connect with one another, and move together. Who knows how long it will last. The weather will change and who knows what else. But for now, I am so very grateful. And I feel so full.

I hope that you also can taste fullness today, finding connection and feeding your soul in whatever way you safely can. Lord knows that is not easy right now. But it is possible. And we all deserve it.

And with that, I am off to teach.

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