The Elephant in the Room

There’s an old story about 5 blind men who have no idea what an elephant is, until they are given the opportunity to explore, one by one.

The first feels its tail and reports back, “It’s nothing but a rope”.

The second feels a leg and says, “No you idiot, it’s a tree”.

Third man feels the ear, “What are you thinking, it’s a fan”.

Fourth feels its side and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, it’s a wall”.

The fifth feels the trunk and says, “What are you all, blind?! It’s a snake”.

What we believe to be true is made up by our experiences and perceptions. Often we don’t appreciate the thoughts or opinions of others because, we feel we know what is true and real, even when some of our senses are hindered.

Dee and I often wonder how people describe us, especially after we’ve made a comment like, “She’s so nice” or “He’s a dope”, about someone else.

“I wonder if anyone thinks I’m nice… or sweet?”, she asks.

“Do you mean as in a sweet old lady? It’s not like you bake or anything”, I reply.

“Christie does think you’re funny though”, I add to be kind.

“Well, Diane said someone called me aloof. Is that a good thing?”

“Probably better than a know-it-all. Do you ever have those times where everyone is talking but you? Do people think I’m a good listener or just stupid?”, I ask somewhat rhetorically, which is my wont.

Being sisters, we can, tirelessly, have this same conversation at least every 6 weeks and never really come to any conclusion.

It’s interesting to wonder how we could be described by others. Chances are the descriptions would be based on the way they know us, as family members, friends, co-workers, students, opponents, teachers, parents, or partners.

“The whole is greater than a sum of its parts” is often, incorrectly, attributed to Aristotle. He wrote something similar but more complicated. None-the-less, the simplified version makes for a nice bumper sticker.

We are all multifaceted and sometimes it takes a while for the big picture to emerge. Letting go of the pieces we believe to be true about a person or a situation can be enlightening.

Sometimes I feel like I’m waiting for everyone to get it together and see that I’m not just the ass end of an elephant. “Would you let go of my damn tail and check out my ears? They listen. And the wall you think you feel is just a thin layer of skin making sure my innards don’t fall out.”

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Perhaps the solution comes by patiently paying attention to ourselves just a little bit more. Notice a consistency or lack there of, in thoughts, words and deeds, in all situations. When we shed light on the truth in ourselves, it’s easier to find it in others, no matter what the relationship.

Then there’s this:

Five blind elephants were discussing what a man was. They plainly had no idea. One day they decided to investigate.

The first elephant went into a tent where a man was reported to be. When she came out she said, “Men are flat”.

The other four went in and after they came out they said, “Yes, you were right”.

Give it a minute.

Namaste- move that blindfold out of the way.

UPS Brings More Than Packages

Although Georgia is almost stone deaf (unless she’s faking it), she knows when the UPS truck pulls into the driveway. Then again, maybe her vision has become much more acute to compensate for hearing loss.

She spots Sean, the driver, at 500 feet away. I spot him at 480 feet. I recognize the UPS bark.

Yesterday I went out to meet him, leaving Georgia inside barking in front of the sliding door. He went to the back of the truck, where she often follows him. He handed me the package while Georgia continued to let us know she was there, watching.

“I’m glad to see she’s still out and about”, he said , lifting his chin in the direction of the house. “I haven’t seen many tracks and I was afraid she’d passed on.”

“Nah, she’s an old codger but still gets around. Funny, she’s as deaf as a post but always knows when you’re coming up the drive”, I said.

“Good to hear”, he grinned and drove off.

I started crying as I went back inside.

Such a simple conversation that offered so much: an observation, a concern, an acknowledgment, from someone not quite a stranger, not quite a friend.

Sean has a place in my heart now.

How often does that happen to you or because of you?

Namaste- the UPS man made my day!

Supercalifragilistic

Every Tuesday morning my mother-in-law and I run errands. Our stops don’t change much, the post office, grocery store, pharmacy and bank. Once in a while we stop for special cat food.

Over the past year she’s had difficulty with her speech. She knows what she wants to say but the inability to spit it out is a source of frustration for her.

One morning when I asked what was on her shopping list she fumbled for words and got a bit hot under the collar.

“I’m sorry did you mean to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?”, I asked with a sincere, dead pan glance. That broke the tension in the car quicker than a spoonful of sugar.

She burst out laughing as I jumped into the middle of the verse, “So when the cat has got your tongue there’s no need for dismay, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-you’ve got a lot to say”!

Often with young children a useful phrase in the midst of an escalating tantrum is “use your words”. Great advice unless you can’t.

If words don’t come, we need to take the time to see what’s stopping them. Sometimes we can’t speak due to astonishment, fear or indignation. Sometimes someone else takes the words out of our mouthes or minds and there’s nothing left to say. Less often it’s aphasia, some sort of damage to the brain.

On the other hand shooting from the hip is a tendency to speak without thinking of the consequences or affects on others. It’s reacting rather than responding, often in an unpleasant way.

Whether or not we can find the words, the key is to be patient with our verbal and nonverbal reactions; be more comfortable with silence.

The questions to ask before speaking,

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

are often attributed to Buddha, Socrates or the Victorian poet, Mary Ann Pietzker.

However, the oldest, and perhaps most legitimate source is from The Bhagavad Gita:

17.15 “To offer soothing words, to speak truly, kindly, and helpfully, and to study the scriptures: these are the disciplines of speech.”

17:16 “Calmness, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and purity: these are the disciplines of the mind.”

Let’s give ourselves time to speak with attention to compassionate, patient and thoughtful honesty.

Namaste- “Practically perfect in every way”

Word Salad

I thought I had a book in me ready to print until this past week at the Institute for a Whole Bunch of Cool Things in Rhinebeck, NY. About 35 of us sat with the book we were born to write on our laptops, in spiral notebooks and binders.

There are educators, entrepreneurs, parents, preachers, therapists, teachers, life coaches, life savers, strivers, survivors, even a couple of lawyers.

People from every walk of life, with all kinds of stories, baggage, dreams, and hopes gathered together in an attempt to help transform lives.

How often does this happen?

Wait, what am I saying? This happens in the yoga studio all the time. Classes are filled with individuals on journeys hoping to change themselves and ideally the world at large.

Maybe change isn’t the right word. Understand? Expose? Enjoy? Accept?

How hard could it be to write a book to assist in this transformation?

Sure is a lot harder than I thought.

I found out I don’t know much about putting a book together. Don’t get me wrong, I understand basic rules of grammar and sentence structure but; developing a hook, crafting a book proposal, establishing a platform, these are all things that are so jumbled together now that I can barely remember my middle name.

It gets worse with this simple question:

“What is your book about in three sentences?” Now I’m f*cked.

It turns out I don’t know much about anything these days, much less what I’m writing about. I’m not sure I can explain the difference between yoga and yodeling.

The only way I can describe my new vegetative state is by the phrase “Word Salad”, a somewhat disorganized string of incoherent ideas.

Yoga, kids, creativity, teaching, dancing, telling stories, humor, sins, virtues, acceptance?

I pride myself on tossing together some pretty good salads but there is little chance Panera will put them on the menu.

Before anyone thinks I’m upset, in a funk, depressed or miserable, fear not.

Three years ago, I’d have been so discouraged I’d have skipped the tenth vegetarian buffet at the workshop and gone out for a burger and a Bud.

This time I stayed put.

This is where I am in my writing career, right here, right now.

Breath in. Breath out.

People spend years putting together recipes for restaurants and cook books. They know kitchen tricks that a lot of us don’t. It’s their profession, bailiwick, forté.

Just because I want to join in their professional circles doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen when I want it to happen.

We have to know what we don’t know first. Then we get back to work, measuring, mixing, adding, whisking, beating and learning.

Acceptance of where we are right now, is the bowl holding all of the ingredients. Let the feelings of inadequacy or disappointment hang around until the meal is over and then toss what’s left into the compost.

Learn from the aromas and flavors around us. Good or bad, they don’t linger long.

Namaste- it’s okay, time to play, it’s not a bad day, thoughts ricochet, come what may, just might end up with a book someday!

The Ice-breaker Everyone (I) Hates

It’s recommended when meeting new people, and old friends, to ask personal questions. It’s easy, everyone loves talking about themselves. It gives you something to discuss other than the weather. Unless of course you’re learning a new language, then weather discussions are advised.

Questions are good not only because they show you’re an interested and curious listener, but also because it makes the person responding feel interesting. That’s a nice thing to do for someone. It breaks the ice. (No pun intended if your discussion is about global warming en francais.)

I like when people ask me why I like teaching and telling stories.

It gives me the opportunity to tell more stories and watch eyes glaze over.

I don’t like the question “ Who is the greatest inspiration in your life?” That one leaves me speechless and makes my eyes blur.

Too many choices: Public figures, family members, fictional characters, spiritual leaders, philanthropic artists, teachers, babysitters…is this a test?

Will I be judged by my response?

Anyone who knows anything knows you should select someone who is universally important (to show worldliness) or someone familial (to show appreciation), then again one may do the latter to stay in the good books.

Speaking of which, what if my inspiration is Eloise who lives in the Plaza Hotel with her dog, Weenie, rather than Jane Eyre who lives in Moor House with ghosts? Does that mean I’m more precocious than principled ?

As a yoga teacher maybe I should choose Pantanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, or Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, art, language and music?

Because I’m a woman should it be a woman?

I know a lot of great female teachers and athletes but my pal John was the most talented ski instructor I ever worked with.

He spent a good deal of his career working with children and training others to do the same. One of his jokes I’ll never forget, still gets a roar of approval with a group of 10 or 50 year olds.

“Three moles were trudging in line through an underground tunnel, making their way to Farmer Smith’s cellar, where all kinds of treats were stored.

The first mole said, ‘I smell sugar’.

The second mole said, ‘I smell honey’.

The third mole said ‘All’s I smell is molasses’.”

He taught me the importance of humor in teaching and in learning.

He expanded my appreciation of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange.

He showed me that sometimes the best teachers are not physically the best in their field.

He exemplified a person who was committed to doing and sharing what he loved.

I can’t think of any better qualities in a ski teacher, a yoga teacher, or any teacher.

I can’t think of any better qualities in a human being that would inspire or influence me more.

Well there you have it. Next question?

Namaste- the ice broke today

Thriving Like a Lilac

“I have a lilac here that isn’t happy. It came from your old farm years ago and has never bloomed” said my sister-in-law.

“How did it end up at your house?” I asked.

“No idea. Do you want it?

“Definitely.”

That first year the lilac bush was so happy to be back on familiar turf that it grew a beautiful head of purple hair, and has done so each subsequent spring.

The soil down the road wasn’t making the shrub happy. It probably wanted to pull itself out by the roots and head back home but couldn’t. It had to wait.

As humans we’re lucky, we can get up and move, even if only into the next room. We need to be in the right place to bloom, surrounded by old friends and familiar spaces or perhaps on a yoga mat surrounded by new friends in foreign places.The thing is we can grow most anywhere but to truly blossom we need to find contentment.

What nutrients do we need? If they aren’t directly underfoot it may be time to re-assess. Do we have to pull ourselves up by the root straps or can we simply begin to notice our physical, emotional and spiritual self. How are we reacting to our circumstances?

In yoga philosophy, svadhyaya (self study), the fourth Niyama, or observance, encourages us to question our sensations, emotions, and thoughts. During our physical asana practice we can notice what arises when we fall out of balance in ardha chandrasana (half moon pose). What happens off the mat when our lives feel unbalanced? Embarrassment, frustration, anger?

Are our roots bound in malnourished soil? How can we find contentment despite standing on rocky ground?

Maybe we need a backhoe or maybe it’s as simple as taking a deep breath and becoming aware of habits and assumptions.

Namaste- the scent in the air is sweet today.

The Scheme of Life

I like watching the ticker tape at the bottom of the tv screen on potential snow days. Over the past 50 years the increasing amount of time it takes to go through the alphabetical list is impressive yet also irritating. If you see Helping Hands Preschool you have about 11 minutes before the D’s come back around. Eleven minutes of anticipation and then relief or resignation-

A. “DORSET HAS NO SCHOOL TODAY! Maybe I’ll clean the house.”

or

B. “Ah f*ck.”

On days when I prefer to stay in bed until the last minute I go to the school closings list on the VPR app on my iPad.

It’s fast and most often reliable. Today even though it’s coming down pretty steadily outside, only BBA is closed and one other is on a delayed opening. Delayed openings at preschools mean I get the kids soon after they arrive rather than a couple of hours later for some high energy creative movement. The teachers are often very thankful.

I know I’ll have my work cut out for me. No school yesterday, late start today means ten seconds of mixed emotions-

A. “Oh well, at least I’ll get paid for some crazy Hullabaloo today.”

and

B. “Ah f*ck.”

Wait! What’s this? (New email message received.)

“Hi Alexandra, we have a delayed opening this morning but due to our Valentines Day party we won’t be having Hullabaloo.”

Three seconds of confusion and outrage-

A. “Is the VPR list incorrect? Did they just this second decide to delay?”

then

B. “The nerve!”

Since when did a Valentines Day party trump rollicking sessions of Hullabaloo?

Mom’s response; “Sooner or later we find out where we fit in the scheme of life”.

Namaste, my ego needs a snow day!

Who hates Secret Santa? I do.

The week before drawing names for “Secret Santa” was hell during most of my elementary school years. The week after was worse.

Drawing a name out of a hat left too much to chance. What if I got Heidi who recently hated me because I told Robert to push her out of the middle swing at recess; or Arnold who eats raw onions and stands in the hall while the rest of us recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why does it have to be secret and random? Why can’t we just give presents to people we know like us and aren’t weird?

Once names are drawn you go through a week of :

Teasing, “If you tell me who you got I’ll tell you…just kidding”.

Taunting, “I heard Tony got your name and switched with Matthew”.

Lies, “Your Secret Santa really likes you A LOT!”

In 5th grade everyone knows the best present from a SS is a Book of Lifesavers, next up, a Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear Soap. The more you wash, the less fuzzy it gets. I’m pretty sure there’s a prize deep inside if you practice good hygiene regularly for a couple of weeks. I can count at least 6 times I’ve wrapped up the old stand-by, Silly Putty.

When it was my turn, the package I received had the right size and weight; it smelled of orange, lime, cherry and lemon. It had to be Lifesavers, I deduced to myself with a smirk.

Wrong.

There’s a reason Mom said “wipe that smirk off your face” repeatedly as we grew up. It signaled oncoming disaster for the smirker.

Inside was a bar of soap decorated with sequins and ribbons adhered by stick pins. My disappointment transformed quickly into, what I hope,was an expression of surprise and delight. (Tact and an appreciation for creativity were concepts I was slowly working on.)

Last week an unwrapped box of “Christmas Mugs for Two” was in my mailbox. “For a Special Friend” was written oddly on a Post-It note. If I wrote with a pencil using my teeth I could replicate it.

It looked suspiciously like a SS gift.

What does it say about me to immediately assume it was from Pen and no one else, my stepfather, who died 2 1/2 years ago?

I studied the outside before opening it. I have no special friends. This must be a mistake. Maybe it’s something awful in a nice box, like an ear or anthrax.

I texted my sister:

“Did you send this? Check out the message.” (Photo attached).

“Nope. Watching Hallmark Christmas Shows.”

“Should I open it?”, I wrote.

“Dunno”, she replied.

I held a towel over my nose and mouth and opened the box carefully.

Wow! Two nice mugs inside just like the picture on the outside.

“Who the f*ck?”, I asked myself, all night long.

The next morning I wrote Sister Dee, “It was Brother Had! He left the gift!” I teased.

She immediately called and asked how I knew.

“He sounded funny when I asked him. He’s the best at pranks.” I taunted.

I continued on, “Okay, I know it wasn’t him I just wanted to trick you into confessing. The initials VATC on the note have me stumped. I looked it up and it’s a company in Florida- Video Awareness Technology and Consulting.”

“Interesting. I looked it up as well and it was the Vermont Attorneys Title Corporations”, she said patiently.

She continued, “Who’s been to a lawyer lately?”.

“Me. I just did my will, and by the way you’re responsible for burning my journals.”

There was a deep sigh on her end.

“Who just sold her 9 year old consignment business and had some stuff leftover?”

“Oh my gosh! I knew it was you!” I lied.

Perhaps the best presents are those that show you are present. It takes time to decorate a bar of soap as it does to plan a prank.

Just knowing that you are in someone’s thoughts and that they are in yours is better than some old Fuzzy Wuzzy.

Namaste – Happy 2019 from anta-Say

How Much Wood Can a Woodchuck Stack

I’d never survive on a chain gang. I can only do about 20 minutes of manual labor before I have an overwhelming need to lie down and read my book. It’s not that I’m lazy or physically lacking, I just don’t care for long stints of repetitive activity.

Stacking wood and grating cheese come to mind.

3 years ago I decided to count the logs as I looked at the pile dropped in the middle of the driveway.

It took me a couple of afternoons at 20 minutes a pop. 

There are 540 pieces in a cord of wood.

2 years ago there was no way I was getting into the garage until 2 cord were stacked. Back to counting. Looks like we got a couple of fat cords the total was 1084.

Last year as soon as 3 cords were unloaded we got 8 inches of snow. No garage and no plowing until they got moved. This was manual labor at its worst. It had to be a rush job so I allowed myself to be shamed into longer stretches by Honey Bun.

In order to get through this I relied on the old yoga adage of “Be in the Moment”.

I became an automaton.  I didn’t need to count. I needed to do my job. I mean I needed to just “be”.

I focused on the smell of the wood, the snow melting into my gloves, and the numbness of my fingers. It turns out that I have trouble keeping track of the tally when I can’t stop when I need to.  At least I could count all the bruises on my arms, legs and feet.

I wouldn’t necessarily say being in the moment made it any more palatable but at least I didn’t lie down on the job and pull everyone down with me.

This year as the first cord was dropped I decided that it’s okay to count while being in the moment. Any yogi knows that counting your breath can be helpful in class, why not off the mat?

Off and out I went.

When the kid arrived about 30 minutes later with the second load, I proudly said “I’ve stacked 100 logs!”

He looked a little blank.

“Did you know there are 540 logs in a cord?” I continued.

Still blank.

“One year I counted 1084 in two cords!” I added hoping to get some sort of response.

“It’s not that I’m checking up on you or anything”, I added lamely.

“That’s weird” he said as he pulled the lever and the second cord dropped onto the first.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” I said to myself. Now the two cords were one big one. I really wanted to test the 540 hypothesis but then again I can work with 1084. Not to worry, one more cord to come and I’ll make sure to keep it separate.

The next day Sister Dee was at the house kindly taking care of Georgia the dog. As I drove up she was stacking wood. I could feel slight panic in my chest.

“Nine, ten!”, she announced as I got out of the car.

“Are you sure” I asked tentatively.

“Pretty sure. Brother Had helped earlier, not sure if he counted” she added.

Okay I still have one untouched cord to go. 

Yesterday I was up to 310. By my visual estimation the tally was going to be spot on again. No sooner had I gone inside to glance at my book when two friends arrived dressed like professional stackers in red and green plaid jackets. 

“We’re here to help!”, they announced proudly.

I wasn’t sure how to go about asking them to count logs so I casually said, “Did you know there are 540 logs in a cord?” 

I hoped for “Oh wow! That’s so cool what are you up to now?”

Instead I got,“Oh man, don’t tell us that”.

That was it. No solid counting data this year but at least I can get my car into the garage.

Time to make quesadillas for dinner. I bought pre-shredded cheese.

Namaste, no more wood to stack hooray!

Photo Shoot

“I like this one” Dee said; “You look like a realtor.”

“You mean I look professional, trustworthy, conscientious…?”

“Well sort of”, she replied.

My friend is a photographer and he posts photos on line to promote his new business. I saw one that made my heart stop. Many of his do but this one caught me.

I only know the subject peripherally. He’s a business man and a good one, however, I’ve never seen the twinkle, that I’m sure his family and friends know well, in real life or on camera before. A handsome, smiling man in a suit made me grin.

Maybe the photographer could capture something in me that few people have ever seen or noticed before:

Professionalism, trustworthiness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, or understanding. Are those looks that can be captured?

Dee said she can always tell when I think someone is full of sh*t because one eye gets funny.

“Quit smirking” means Mom knows what I was thinking.

Honeybun leaves the room quietly when I get a certain look.

I’m not sure what those looks look like.

I should have brushed my hair.

I should have put on makeup.

I should have made Dee come with me. She could have of given instructions: “Look happy, sad, mad, irritated, scared, unsure, confident.”

I should have made all of those faces so I could see what others see.

Instead I laughed at the camera because I had no choice. I laughed at me because I’m funny. Here I am at a photo shoot pretending I know why I’m here.

“Can I put your picture on my website?”, my friend asked after.

“Only if I look really good. Not that I’m vain but… I don’t want people to think I think I should be getting my picture taken…I mean it may seem I’m being …ah…whatever.”

“Do you want to check it out first?”, he asked kindly.

“Yeah, that would be good.”

The next day my grandmother and I looked through old knitting books.

“I had a beautiful Norwegian sweater like this once. Such intricacies in the patterns” she mused.

“Look at this one! Get a load of the model!” I said somewhat unkindly.

“Speaking of which let me show you the photos from the shoot”

“Oh, lovely!”, she said while looking at the file.

I smiled to myself.

“Look at the colors!”

I smiled again. Maybe she could see that one of my eyes is more green than blue.

“It looks like a difficult pattern.”

Wait? What?

She assumed we were still discussing knitting patterns and was referring to the shirt I was wearing.

Now that I think about it, I never really noticed that before. It’s a nice shirt. It would make a great sweater.