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.

You Can’t Rush Asparagus

The first asparagus I ever tasted from my garden.

I miss exactly two things about living in New York City: my friends and my asparagus patch.

Over the seventeen years that I called NYC home, I lived in three boroughs, one house, and six apartments. The last abode, which my family and I moved from a year ago, was a modest two bedroom with a small backyard. This may not seem like a big deal for those who have never lived in New York, but let me assure you, having access to any outdoor space at all in NYC is a huge privilege and one that I did not take for granted. I gardened the crap out of that yard and had some pretty delicious fruits and veg as a result.

The shining jewel of my urban gardening crown was without a doubt my asparagus patch. I started it from seed at the back edge of our tiny yard mostly as a way of trying to build patience, something I struggle with, especially as a parent. It takes three years for an asparagus patch started from seed to yield a real harvest, so I figured if I could cultivate a vegetable with that much patience, surely I could cultivate patience in myself as well.

I was also stealing a page directly from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in which she writes, “In my adult life I have dug asparagus beds into the property of every house I’ve owned, and some I rented–even tiny urban lots and student ghettoes–always leaving behind a vegetable legacy waving in the wake…” Preach, Barbara!

I am also a perennial rusher (Catch that…perennial? Sorry, I can’t resist a gardening pun), and growing asparagus seemed like a helpful tool in getting me to slow down and become more comfortable with long periods where not much seems to be happening. Typically, prolonged waiting makes me super anxious, and I wanted to get to the bottom of what that was about. So with all that in mind, I started my sweet little patch.

Growing asparagus was a slow process and beautiful to behold. Prior to it, I had no idea what asparagus actually looked like as it grew, how tall it got, the feathery splendor of its post-harvest foliage. And oh, the taste. The taste! It was nothing like what I had ever bought at the grocery store. It redefined asparagus. It was the physical embodiment of green, of sun, of tenderness and light. It was sublime.

And then, after one small but stupendous harvest, we moved.

We said goodbye to our urban homestead to put down roots in greener pastures (See what I mean with the garden puns? They are just so easy!), but before leaving NYC for the Hudson Valley, I made sure to save some seeds from that first/last harvest, so that I could start a new patch once we moved.

A handful of seeds saved after that first/last harvest.

Although I was tempted to plant them last year during the first spring in our new home, I resisted the urge and waited. I am very glad that I did because I have now witnessed each season in our new digs and have a better understanding of the terrain, both literally and metaphorically. It took a lot for me to not rush into starting a new patch (which was supposed to be all about not rushing), but I managed, and I’m really freaking proud of that. I allowed myself that most valuable and precious element which asparagus knows by heart: time.

Often in yoga, like in gardening, we refer to the five elements: earth, water, wind, air, and fire. Some combination of these things is responsible for practically all life on earth, but it does seem to me that time itself is a crucial missing element, without which nothing much can occur. Time is what gives us real, lived experience. Time is what gives us understanding. Time is what allows the alchemy of life to do its thing. Time is what it takes to grow asparagus from seed to harvest.

I am trying hard to focus more on how I experience time both when I teach and practice yoga. I am trying to respect it more as an element in its own right, and one that is perhaps the most powerful of all. Time is always and forever happening right now, and yet it is never in a rush.

I’m trying to let myself live right in the middle of time, a conscious participant in its perpetual unfolding. I’m finding that it is not as easy as it sounds, but that it is quite possibly one of the highest and most profound callings that we can ever attempt to answer.

Take Your Time

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

Hello, dear reader! I have missed you! It has been a greater stretch of time than usual between posts, but I have to keep reminding myself that that is in fact a-okay. And in my case, it is probably a very good thing.

Something I am actively working on in my life is taking more time with things (like writing blog posts) and not rushing. I know that may sound simple or trite, but honestly, I am really struggling with it.

My daily rush generally starts pretty early. I rush to get a few things done during the quiet before my children wake. Then I rush to get them fed, out the door, and to school on time. And then I rush to cram whatever I can into those brief hours before school lets out. And then I rush to make it to pick up on time, and I rush, and I rush, and I rush. It is silly really. And wanna know what else it is?

Completely pointless.

Rushing accomplishes absolutely nothing except for making every tiny thing feel ten times harder than it has to. And weirdly, my own attempts to keep things moving along at a nice clip often causes them to take much longer than necessary. My youngest daughter illustrates this for me daily whenever I try to hurry her in getting dressed, brushing her teeth, whatever. The more I tell her to hurry, the slower she goes. And I know she isn’t doing it on purpose; it’s like the rushing actually paralyzes her.

Through observing her and paying attention to my own feelings mid-rush, I have come to realize that rushing is even more of a mental state than it is a physical one. And as such, it can so easily affect every single aspect of our lives whether we mean for it to or not.

When I first started practicing yoga a thousand years ago, classes were always at least an hour and a half long. Since then, they have shortened significantly, and in most settings I find myself in these days, classes are an hour (or maybe an hour and a quarter if I get lucky.) That is a pretty huge shift, so what exactly happened? Were we all in that big of a rush? In ten more years will most classes be just thirty minutes?

I really don’t buy the line that our lives are busier now than ever before. In fact, I find claims like that to be arrogant at best, delusional at worst. Since the beginning of time, the business of living has kept all of humanity pretty darned occupied; we aren’t all that special. But I do believe that our brains are now crammed with a lot more stuff (junk, stimuli, media, whatever you want to call it), so we have the internal, mental experience of constantly rushing between points of information and practically always falling behind.

At its best, yoga can be a wonderful antidote to this. It asks you to move slowly, to breathe slowly, and maybe even quiet your mind a little (second yoga sutra and all that). But it is sad to me that we are chipping away at the minutes we are willing to give in the space of a single class. I miss the days of ten minute savasanas, of classes that didn’t try to get your heart rate up by rushing in and out of poses, of sitting in stillness at the end of every practice. In short, I miss taking my time.

But if I am honest, I am the only one who is to blame for that. No matter how short or long a class may be, I am the one in control of whether I rush. I do not have to rush from point A to point B. I am allowed to be still and move slowly. And the same goes for teaching. Cramming as much as I possibly can into a single session is a disservice to my students. Creating space, making room for stillness, and allowing for quiet are the precious gifts they deserve.

In an earlier post, I talked about starting each class with a silent prayer for good clear boundaries. I think I will now add to that personal invocation a commitment to not rush. And whenever I notice myself rushing, I will do my best to pause. I will take a giant breath in and let a giant breath out. I will feel the ground under my feet and the air on my skin and remember how lucky I am to be alive at this sole, singular moment. And I will try my damnedest not to miss it by hurrying off to the very next thing.

Rushing gets in the way of living, and I’m ready to give it up. I think I’ll start by rewriting the story of my day without it:

I wake early. I enjoy the quiet before my children wake. I feed them, dress them, and take them to school. I fill my work day with dance and yoga and writing. I fetch my kids from school. We live, we live, we live.

That sounds pretty freaking fantastic.

Loveliness

Once upon a time and many moons ago, I was a ballet dancer. I started taking ballet at the ripe old age of four as a means of strengthening and rehabilitating my previously broken right femur described in an earlier post. That rehab turned into genuine love, and I continued ballet throughout high school in my hometown dance company, Chattanooga Ballet. More specifically, I was a member of the corps de ballet, or just corps for short. For those who may not know, the corps in a ballet company refers to the dancers who always dance together in a group, often as a backdrop to soloists and principal dancers. Literally, the “body” of the ballet, the corps gives weight and structure to every performance. It is the group counterpoint to the radiant solo; the unison of many framing the expression of one.

Being a member of the corps was one of the most challenging, invigorating, illuminating, and instructive experiences of my dance training and, indeed, my life. Its most basic requirement is listening to the group with your whole physical self and doing whatever it takes for that group to be in true unison. This does not simply mean doing the same steps on the same counts (although you have to do that as well), but it requires existing in both movement and stillness as one singular body, even though there could be a dozen or more dancers onstage.

It is no easy feat, but when when a corps is successful, it is absolutely breathtaking, both as viewer and participant. I remember being in the corps and recognizing that I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, the only word I can think of for that experience is transcendent.

I have heard people liken dancing within a corps to being on a team, but to my mind it is different. For me, a team implies competition, that there are other teams out there who you are striving to outperform. But when I recall my days in the corps, one of the best parts about it was that we were working together so diligently for no other reason than to make something beautiful. We weren’t competing with other corps de ballets; we were simply a tenacious young group of dancers striving to unify in the service of art. It was extraordinary.

Looking back, I am so thankful to have experienced the real power of a group at such a young age. I truly believe that it shaped my life in ways that I still don’t fully understand. And I think at it’s best, practicing yoga in a group can also provide a taste of what I experienced back then: the sublime beauty of moving as a group.

Although yoga class is definitely not about being in unison and certainly asks you to honor your own individuality, the power and energy that comes from practicing in a group can feel like absolute magic, much like the magic of the corps de ballet. There is a shared experience of moving, breathing, contracting, and releasing that is as profound as it is simple. And it is available to us every time we step into the studio if we only remember to pay attention to it.

Often, I forget to pay attention. I get so wrapped up in my own individual practice or in the individual needs of single students that I forget about the magic of the group that is there already, inherent to practicing together. One of my goals for the coming months is to really savor the “group-ness” of the classes I take as well as teach, and I encourage others to do the same. Why should any of us deny ourselves so precious a gift?

In her magnificent and poignant book Late Migrations, Margaret Renkl describes walking in the woods with her niece and finding a ladybug tucked in the fungal folds of a rotting tree. Her niece shares her recent discovery that a group of ladybugs is called a loveliness. How beautiful is that? What could be more perfect? That is what we are and what we always have the potential to be when we come together to practice. A sweet and special loveliness. Full of power, full of grace.

May we always and forever remember to pay attention to the loveliness.

Thank You

Today’s entry from my Panda Planner. This is seriously the best planner in the universe. I cannot recommend it enough. Click here to get your own.

Growing up, my mother was always a stickler about writing thank you notes. My brother and I were not always the most amenable to her prodding, but I am now so grateful for it.

One of the things I remember most as a kid about begrudgingly writing my thank yous, was the fact that I actually did feel better after afterwards. Although I didn’t have words for it then, I was experiencing one of the very real benefits of gratitude. It is one of those rare things, like love, that feels as good to receive as it does to offer up.

I have so much to be grateful for that sometimes it feels obscene. My husband. My children. My parents and brother. My large and sprawling Southern family and the ever-embracing Greek family I married into. My friends. My yoga, which has given me so much and which I cherish even through my disenchantment. My students. My teachers. And last, but most certainly not least, you dear reader. I am so fully, unabashedly grateful for you.

I am writing this post entirely to say thank you. Thank for for giving me your precious time, for reading my digital scribbles, for listening to my gripes and my joys about yoga, and for giving me the space to muddle through my own disenchantment. Your willingness to do these things is such a gift. And I would be remiss as my mother’s daughter if I didn’t put my gratitude down on paper. Granted, whatever screen you are reading this on isn’t “paper.” But I think it still counts.

I know it isn’t the best practice as a writer to end with someone else’s words. But I am going to do it anyway because they have been ringing in my ears the entire time I have been writing this post. And they are Shakespeare’s words, and I figure he is a good enough writer that we can bend some rules. So wherever, whenever you are reading this, please take his words, from me to you, and let them fill your day and your life:

I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks; and ever thanks.”