Blog Posts

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

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