My sister and I, along with seven other women, took an introductory class on using a chainsaw at Merck Forest last weekend. David Birdsall, the instructor was excellent. Clear, calm, and patient.
While in the woods, he demonstrated felling four trees in a precise, focused, and safe manner. What struck me was his reminder to be aware, not only of the machine, but of the surroundings.
What is happening in the nearby trees? What could happen when this one falls? Where am I going to be? How will the fallen tree be removed? How will the removal leave those trees left standing?
There was a lot of information to process, safety concerns, saw mechanics, understanding the physics of tension and compression on fallen branches, to name a few.
He said it was like learning to drive a car. With practice, actions become automatic, but just like driving it’s important to maintain awareness.
There is nothing we do that doesn’t require the same skill set, even in a yoga practice.
Am I moving into a shape safely? What is happening physically, when I move from one pose to another? Am I fighting gravity or working with it? Am I on auto-pilot? Am I aware of every movement as I’m doing it?
The awareness that we build in our practice, allows us to channel that focus into everything we do, whether operating a chain saw or driving a Subaru. The ability to stay calm, relaxed, and steady makes facing new challenges easier.
Incidentally, a hardhat with ear protection makes using a blender much more pleasant. Maybe that’s just me and my ears.
Namaste- PJs, a helmet, and a smoothie start a great day.
Tonight is the last night with Georgia. Her body is giving up.
I made the appointment with the vet three days ago, sort of realizing that nothing could be done over the weekend. I was wishing she would go in her sleep. She doesn’t whimper or moan, she just looks like she’s miserable.
But, she still looks.
Her eyes follow me, so I stay in her foggy vision. The sadness I feel now, is not the idea of her being gone. It’s more that I can’t make her feel better. It’s a sadness that would be relieved, if I could give her a tasty treat to let her drift off into the next world, tranquilly and painlessly. Instead, I have to figure out how to get her into the car tomorrow, without bugging her.
We’ll bury her at the center of the labyrinth, in the field where she spent so much time jumping in the tall grass, as if on a trampoline.
Georgia was rescued at age 3 from a home with 14 cats and three other dogs. That was 11 years ago. I have no doubt that the woman who owned her, and all of the other animals, cared deeply for them when she could.
My beautiful, sweet, brindle, pitbull mix has been my constant shadow until it became too difficult for her to get into the car or climb the stairs to our bedroom.
Everyone who has owned a dog, cat, horse, parakeet, turtle, gerbil or whatever, knows how I feel. It’s nothing new.
It’s the common feeling of a breaking heart.
I need to accept that the creature who gives me so much delight, will soon be gone. I also need to remember that I gave her delight too.
Many who know me, understand that I’m not fond of public sorrow. It’s not that I am so incredibly private, it’s more so that I need to process grief by myself.
I’m doing this public display for those who feel the same way. While writing, I can cry quietly. By writing, I can let those who don’t know me as well know, that yes, I do feel like you, even if it doesn’t seem so.
Letting go of unconditional love is scary, because sometimes we wonder if we will ever feel it again.
And then we do.
Namaste- Georgia’s paws still smell like a Frito-Lay.
My new dental hygienist asked, “Do you wear a mouth guard at night?” “Well, no…why?” I questioned. (Her inquiry seemed a bit odd. Did I have bits of rubber or plastic between my teeth?)
“I think you’re a grinder, or maybe a clencher,” she continued. “Let’s take a look at your canine teeth…no they look fine…I’d say you’re a clencher.”
Never in my life have I imagined myself a grinder or a clencher. In fact, I don’t think I’ve used those two words together in a sentence, ever.
Due to CoVid-19, my previous hygienist of 25 plus years had retired. I wanted to send her a thank-you note, for all of her emotional support. I used to be a shipwreck in the dentist chair for no particular reason.
Because of her, I no longer broke into a cold sweat worrying about annual appointments. Between her yearly compliments on how well my teeth looked and deep breathing, yoga style, I became a pretty good, calm patient. She changed my perspective on dental care. I figured the note could be forwarded to her from the business office.
When the dentist came in to inspect my current hygienist’s findings, he said, “I think we have some areas of concern. Do you floss?”
“Haven’t you noticed the sharp edges of this tooth? Can you see where part of the filling has fallen out?” he asked while pointing to the photograph of my tooth, that looked nothing like a tooth. (Seriously, it could have been an ultrasound of a fetus.) “Well, no”, I replied cautiously.
Am I unobservant, in denial, or just plain stupid, I asked myself.
It turned out that two 55 year old fillings had hit their expiration dates. I needed two crowns. “Do not start crying,” I said to myself.
At the end of my appointment, it was all I could do, not to write on the newly addressed thank-you note envelope, “Please come back!”
Two days later, while flossing with diligence, the last remaining part of one of the tired, old fillings flew out of my mouth. “I’m not looking for it, the maid will get it,” I said to myself. “The maid” refers to whomever picks up the vacuum cleaner first, in our house. We can safely assume a piece of metal is still around.
It turns out I am a clencher. I know because I’ve been paying attention.
I notice when I wake up in the morning, my mouth is comfortably clamped shut. It feels perfectly natural.
My new oral practice is to relax my jaw, but it’s not always easy.
During the night, when I roll over for the 19th time, I ask if I’m clenching. Yeah, but it’s an easy fix. I think about softening the position of my teeth, bore myself stiff, and fall back to sleep (ideally with closed lips so nothing flies in) but also with my jaw slightly agape. I imagine.
During conscious hours, I begin to notice the sensation of clenching during some conversations.
How do you relax clenched teeth when someone says something that makes you want to grind in agony? This is going to take some practice.
Often, in yoga classes, we are invited to let go of things that no longer serve us, things that make us grind and clench. It may be our teeth, our fists, our minds, or our hearts.
When we become aware of physical reactions and sensations, and investigate what may be causing them, we can change things we may not have been aware of in the first place.
Maybe we clench and grind rather than speak what’s on our minds. Maybe we are gnashing and gnawing on something that really isn’t that important. If it is important, then we need to spit it out.
Teeth get old, fillings get old, hygienists get younger.
“We’re moving the sheep tomorrow morning. All hands on deck. Can you help?”, Sister Dee texted me. She works at the Merck Forest and Farmland Center.
The first time I went up to see her new place of employment, where she was filling up bottles of maple syrup, I felt like an imposter. My sneakers felt inappropriate on the 10 minute trail to the chickens, pigs, draft horses, sheep, and sap house. Should I be wearing hiking boots or muck boots or something? Is it weird to be walking alone on a road I’ve not been on? Am I walking funny? I became startlingly self-conscious.
I wouldn’t think twice about what was on my feet or what I was doing if I were at the Rec Center in town, but I was becoming confused amidst the trees. Am I just supposed to walk normally? Am I walking, strolling or hiking? What’s the difference anyway? Thank God I’m not wearing yoga pants or a tennis skirt. Maybe it was the newness of the area that was throwing me off.
Four months later I’m much more comfortable visiting, probably because I have some very cool shoes that can pass for hiking boots. Low tech so not Long Trail worthy but pretty hip looking. So me and my self-approved foot-wear arrived at 9 a.m. to help move sheep.
“Okay, who wants to be the Pied Piper?”, Dee’s boss asked. Now that’s something to jump at. Who wouldn’t want to be a Pied Piper? So I jumped. “Take this 10 gallon bucket of grain and start shaking it as soon as we open the gate. The sheep will follow you up the hill to the next gate.”
That didn’t sound too tough. I didn’t want to appear as a Pied Piper imposter. I wanted to appear confident so I didn’t ask anything like “Do I feed them the grain or is it fake grain?” or “How far into the pasture should I lead them.”
Two seconds later, “Ready? Shake. RUN!” The Pied Piper had it easy playing his flute while rats ambled behind him to the music. Picture me being chased by 30 ewes and lambs, carrying an enormous bucket above my head, about 50 yards up hill. Amazing how my boots felt like running shoes. Besides the bleating and the sound of my own heart beating, all I could hear was Dee laughing and yelling “FASTER!” I want to be clear, Mom is the only runner in our family. This wasn’t just running, this was sprinting in a stampede.
I managed to hold my position in front until we got to the new field. After that I was surrounded. Sheep took the lead, crowded from the sides, and pushed from the back. They bounced into each other and off of me. When do we stop running? Sure is lucky I’m not wearing sneakers. Those little hooves behind me would be no match. Am I going to get trampled? Could I die? When do I give them the grain?
I threw handfuls out as if feeding chickens, not easy when running for your life.
Think Alexandra! Remember mustering sheep in Australia? Yeah, but with dogs doing most of the work. So I did the next best thing. I channeled my inner Jillaroo and yelled to pretend dogs. “Get back, Jocko! Bring ‘em round, Mitzi! Aw, git off Rudy!” It totally worked. The sheep started moving away from me!
Then again it may have been because they realized that the luscious grass around them was more enticing and easier to reach than a few bits of grain tossed onto another sheep’s back. Mission accomplished.
A family had been viewing the scene from afar and as I passed them, heading back to my car, the grandfather said, “Don’t you have dogs to do that?” “That would be me,” I replied.
It’s good to volunteer and help out. It’s also a good idea to know what you are getting into first. I tend to forget that and I’m not sure if I enjoy finding delight in the unknown or I’m just plain stupid.
What I do know is, either way, the possibility of making my sister wet her pants laughing is the pay off.
“You don’t have a Bucket List?”, he asked incredulously. “Aren’t there places you want to go and see, or things you want to do before you die?”
I was a little caught off guard so I hoped he wouldn’t ask why I didn’t have one. The subject had never come up for me, ever, anywhere. I had no nutshell answer at the ready.
Now if he asked why I didn’t have a tattoo, I could answer easily. “I can’t think of a thing I’d want permanently etched on my body.”
If I’d been allowed to get a tattoo in 7th grade, what an idiot I’d feel like 50 years later with a Smiley Face, and Alfred E. Neuman from “Mad” Magazine on my person.
But he did ask why, so I had to think fast.
“I don’t like bucket lists because I do what I want when I can. Making a list of things I want to accomplish before I kick the bucket is a surefire way to get my blood pressure up. If I don’t complete the list does that mean I’m a failure? If I complete the list is it time to die? Why set myself up for something stupid like that?”
Sometimes I have a tendency to wreck a conversation.
A similar thing happens to me when asked, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” I hate hypothetical questions truth be told, but prudently I came up with a pat answer for this after taking the BP cuff off for the 90th time.
“I’d pay off our mortgage, pay off my student loan, weatherproof the porch, and support causes that are important to me whether they be organizations, friends, family, do-gooders or people in need.”
Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously like a bucket list.
For some, bucket lists are a way to keep personal wants, goals, desires and dreams organized.
The practice of yoga encourages us to live and be in the moment, aware of who we are and what we have.
What we want, ideally, comes down to what we need.
I suppose there is one thing that appears on my nonexistent list, a big old pair of martini set diamond earrings. (Look them up, they are a thing.)
It seems my earlobes are bigger, in fact my ears seem bigger. Would diamonds help? Do they have to be real? Well diamonds are a girl’s best friend, so Marilyn Monroe sang, and I love that gal.
Cubic Zirconia could work, but I hope they or any diamonds thrown my way are not causing harm to others.
But do I need them?
I guess my bucket list, if I have to have one, would be to make sure that what I want or need isn’t wrecking someone else’s list. Ahimsa, the first Yama, means do no harm.
Mom planted lupine seeds decades ago from Maine in hopes that they would consider her flower bed in Vermont a good place to establish roots. Apparently they can be fussy. It turns out they love the homestead so much that they suggested some of their children live in the neighbor’s pasture with the donkeys. If it weren’t for the electric fence, Mom would dig those plants up and bring them back to where she thinks they belong.
Funny, when we were growing up, Mom was adamant that we be not only prepared to move out of the house when we got older, but potentially out of the town, state and possibly the country. Maybe the lupine parents felt the same.
When she offered to let me dig some up from her garden, I was honored but also a bit suspect. “They are very particular. Either they like where they live or they don’t”, she said. Oh, I get it. This is a test.
I dug up 4 small clumps to relocate them into our flower bed. Gardening is not my forte. There is no rhyme nor reason why there is a single rhubarb plant, single peony and single rose bush, nor a small patch of mint. The Lady’s Mantle and Lemon Geranium don’t know who owns the most property. I’d make a terrible city planner. Maybe I have a subconscious hope that at least something will be blooming at all times during the summer but it doesn’t really look that way, at least not yet. It’s just green.
I cleared a space and gently transplanted the delicate newcomers. I even watered them. In order to keep an eye on them, in case I forgot what they looked like, I placed wire sticks with red neon flags next to each one. We never had an invincible dog fence so I can only assume I saved the flags from when CVPS was marking the electricity line. Even that theory is a little odd because the line was put down about 25 years ago and I have about 50 of them. A better theory is that they just appeared by magic.
Once finished, I took the weeds that were downsized and moved them to a condo in the compost pile on the other side of the house. When I returned-literally 2 minutes later- I saw the most beautiful flowers shimmering in the late afternoon sun.
“Oh my gosh! Tulips!” You may recall that tulips are not listed above. The 5 seconds of appreciation and joy was visceral. At 6 seconds I realized the tulips were the newly placed neon flags.
As a reader you may think that I was overcome with embarrassment or worry at my mental (in)capacities, but far from it. I was grateful for a moment of spontaneous joy derived from my own stupidity.
We perceive things through or senses, how our minds react to the information has a lot to do with how we move through life. To some, a wire stick furling a day-glo flag may be an eyesore especially when in contrast to something else. For others it’s just pure color.
Our perceptions are what keep the mind active. The active mind then categorizes the situation and responds or reacts. Things are good/bad, pretty/ugly, unpleasant/pleasant, the worst/the best. That’s what the mind does. It tries to simplify what we think we know, even when the grey area may be the most important. Atman, our true self, sees no distinction between dualities. It accepts things as they are. If we begin to notice how our minds jump to conclusions, we may be better equipped to pause and appreciate what’s in front of us more calmly. Calmness should be right up there with cool outfits as a reason to practice yoga.
Four days later the lupine are still perky. If they decide not to stay and opt for a better neighborhood in the compost pile, I’m okay with that. I know I have some rolls of different colored surveyors tape somewhere. A garden of multi-colored flags could be spectacular, a real no fuss garden.
Peter and I have been catching up on the series “Blue Bloods”. It’s fun to see how often we say, to the hot-headed Detective Reagan, “Awwww Danny.”
“I have such a busy day tomorrow”, I said, keeping my eyes peeled to the TV.
“Wait. What?” Peter’s astonished response was very satisfying, (Thank you Lord for allowing me yet another successful dead pan delivery.)
“Kidding. I just miss saying that.”
It’s just about a month now that we’ve been here together 24/7. Make that 22/7. We spend about two hours apart each day. One of us is looking for porcupines and the other is trying to find the daggone leak in the roof.
I do miss making detailed lists for the days ahead. I have a crazy fantastic schedule…had.
I teach…taught…Aerial, Yin, Vinyasa, privates, exercise, dance and classes for kids. Every day something different. I have a calendar on my phone and by the phone. It takes organization to keep track of who, what, where, when, and how I’m teaching. Add to that my regular life duties including crossword puzzles, reading, writing, knitting and day dreaming: Busy, busy, busy.
Lists are essential so that the pieces of my life are jostled carefully, ensuring that nothing and no one gets short changed. Least of all, me.
These days my lists are different. Daily lists give way to an ongoing one.
* Make a better face mask, preferably one that doesn’t make my ears stick out.
* Find the necklace that was choking me in class six months ago.
* Clear out desk drawers. Do I really need four packages of blank CD-ROMs?
* Develop a porcupine yoga sequence for prickly adults.
* Go through photos. Maybe before and after haircut shots through the years should have their own album.
*Take wheels off my scooter and use them to replace the cheap plastic ones on my grocery bag cart. Then use the friggin cart.
* Check eBay and see if anyone’s buying vintage trophies for first place in the lead line class at the Bull Head Pond Horse Show in 1964.
Actually, I am kind of busy, but it’s different. The schedule isn’t as strict or mandatory. Taking care of the animals and watering the kale seedlings is about it.
I’ve been given the gift of time, the opportunity to contemplate what is making me feel anxious, impatient, sad or irritable.
How do I react when I don’t hear from family or friends, when Peter says “Dinner might be a bit later than planned”, when I think of those who are missing out on society’s major milestones, or when I realize that vacuum cleaners were made for a reason?
I’ve been given the opportunity to investigate my emotions, and to challenge myself to react and respond differently. What’s really important here? What is urgent? Urgency is slowly giving way to calmness, patience, compassion and understanding.
Like yoga, it is and it takes, practice.
The other night I had ridiculous dreams. Each time I woke, I sang silently Mary Magdalenes’ song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ, Superstar”:
“Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
problems that upset you, oh,
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes everything’s fine.
And we want you to sleep well tonight,
Let the world turn without you tonight.
If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight.”
Make a list of things that you can take care of eventually. Make a list of things that you can’t do anything about. Note how you feel, how you react. Is it possible to let the world turn without you tonight?
If anyone should sing that song, it’s Danny Reagan. Talk about being anxious, impatient, sad and irritable.
I’ve been watching this porky for two weeks now. It moves from branch to branch in a fir tree just down from the house. Last year I saw a prickle of porcupines (that’s what a group of them is called). Then again I never saw them all together. It could have been the same one. It’s kind of hard to tell them apart.
It’s a little bigger than a basketball balanced on slim branches. Big old tubby, without a care in the world. Calmly eating, moving, sleeping, and watching. When the wind is strong, it gets bigger, almost the size of 2 basketballs. The breezes lift up its quills. When the breeze stops, they settle softly against its back.
Baby porcupines are called porcupettes. They are born with soft quills (fortunately) that harden within days. After 4 months or so, they head off on their own. Porcupines are happily solitary animals. They do what they need to do and that’s that.
Animal symbolists describe porcupines that appear in life or in dreams, as signs to inspire us to face our weaknesses and vulnerabilities head-on. We then do what we can to protect ourselves from anything or anyone that wishes us harm.
First we ward off potential threats with warning sounds by rattling our quills. Just a reminder that we aren’t aggressive. Then we puff up, doubling our size as a visual cue that we aren’t going to be shoved around. Finally, when all else fails we run sideways or backwards into our tormentors. Maybe we don’t want to see the effects.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that perceived threats are just that. Thoughts, comments, or actions that aren’t meant to harm. There is just something in the air and it will pass. Down with the quills.
Porcupines also prompt us to rediscover the joy and innocence of childhood, remembering the days when our quills were soft. We are encouraged to leave the chaos and turmoil of our adult worlds and to honor our internal playful sprit.
Perhaps by sitting in a tree, calmly watching the world go by, repeating a mantra like “Polly porcupine and her prickle of porcupettes patiently picked through the prickers” will help.
At this time, many of us are living the solitary life of a porcupine. It’s an opportunity to practice equanimity.
“Equanimity is not insensitivity, indifference, or apathy. It is simply nonpreferential. Under its influence, one does not push aside the things one dislikes or grasp at the things one prefers. The mind rests in an attitude of balance and acceptance of things as they are.”
—Sayadaw U Pandita, “A Perfect Balance”
Picture yourself resting on a tree limb. Observe how you feel, your surroundings, the woman constantly taking your photo. Shake your quills if you think it’s necessary, then relax.
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”.