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Bucket Shmuck-it

“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.

Namaste- just a grocery list today!

Tulip Town

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.

Namaste- neon tulips are okay!

Blue Bloods

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.

Namaste- let’s try and stay calm today.

A Prickle of Porcupines

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.

Namaste- this porcupette’s climbing a tree today.

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