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.

Short Cuts and Term Papers 

My friend Andi is a part time yogi and a full time mom. In addition she’s a writer, a horsewoman, a dancer and a speed-walker- slow-jogger. She also asks the best questions like, “Where are the short cuts in yoga? How long does it take to feel better, calmer, able to let things go?” I explained that unlike vacuuming, yoga is a steady, committed practice.

In college I was a master at shortcuts. I used the same three part, Mad Libs style, template for every paper I wrote. Each one started with the title,
“(Insert Chimpanzees, Sexism, Sign Language, Self Defense, Public Speaking or Ethan Frome here) of the Newer World”. This brilliant idea came after reading “Explorers of the Newer World” in an Encyclopedia Brittanica back in 7th grade. Some things just stick.

The second part was the content and I use the word loosely. 

The third was the summary, one line, “Thank you for your kind attention”.

I thought I was quite clever and I was also content with mediocre grades.

There are five Niyamas in the eight-limbed path of yoga. It’s basically a list of things to do. Santosha asks us to be at ease, appreciate and be content with what is. Sometimes  however, as in my case, it leads to complacency. 

It was easy to come up with a term paper topic at the last minute. I appreciated that editing was for English majors not me. I was also quite content with a passing grade until after I took an independent study self defense course in town. In order to satisfy the physical education requirement I wrote a quick paper. All my part-time sensei required was the class fee.
I received a grade much better than I deserved or expected. Of course I boasted about my “B+” to my instructor. Of course he wanted to see the paper. I couldn’t do it. I knew it was lame but I sure didn’t want anyone else to think I didn’t know it. Time to stop practicing fake Santosha.

Incidentally, all I have to do is remind Dee of my academic history and her concerns about my nieces’ schoolwork goes out the window. “Don’t worry so much; look at my pathetic papers; I turned out fine!”
Considering one of her college works was titled “My Life as a Black Man”, I’m not sure why she’s concerned about anything.

Santosha requires a little effort on our part. It requires a commitment to be our own true selves, our own best selves, by appreciating and accepting what is now. Looking back with regret or forward with anxiety isn’t part of the deal. This is the practice of yoga.

Sometimes our physical yoga practice is frustrating. One day we feel like tired old farmers and other days as nimble as monkeys. One month I may have to vacuum the kitchen twice instead of once. It comes down to being content with what is and what is not.
There are no short cuts, it is a continuous way of living and thinking. It’s enjoying the long haul.

Perhaps we could practice yoga, on or off the mat, the same way we write a thoughtful paper. 

Start with an introduction by taking inventory of ourselves, thoughts and circumstances. 

“This is how I feel and what I’m thinking.”

Then get into the important message, the content.

“The only thing that matters is that I pay attention to this moment.”

Wrap it up.

 “I’m content because I’m me and only me. I appreciate all experiences.”

Namaste- will this template ending ever go away?

That great big sucking sound.

At one time I had 5 vacuum cleaners. If you think this says something about my housekeeping, don’t be fooled.

One was a big old Hoover, a remnant from our childhood home. When clearing out the family homestead we divided things up according to category; valuable, sentimental and tag sale junk. Had took the lawn mower and Dee got stuck with the garden hose.

We were all in a bit of a daze after our father (aka Hopper) died and the house was on the market. We laugh now at how many valuable things got tossed into the tag sale pile. It’s a “boy were we stupid” kind of laugh.

The second machine was a dust buster. It was much easier to lug around than the 35 lb Hoover. The problem was you had to wear earplugs while using it.

The third was and still is a wedding present from Had and Dee. Down to wheeling around 25 lbs. No earplugs needed, just biceps, not quads.

The fourth was a late night QVC purchase. I love watching those pine needles disappear as I swing that baby around. It also makes vacuuming the stairs twice a year a breeze.

The fifth is Honeybun’s shop vac. I can’t really count it as one of mine but will for the sake of this story.

I’m proud to say that the first 2 vacuums are gone and the third is getting close to moving to tag sale land. In a sense I’m cleaning up and clearing out.

I clung to the Hoover as if it were the last connection to the rooms and hallways I grew up in. I think the ragtag old runner from the foyer will suffice. Spooky the cat uses is it as a surf board.

The dust buster was wishful thinking, I hoped that sucking up the spilled dog food was the same as mopping up the entire kitchen floor.

Honeybun’s shop vac is still with us because it belongs to him. However, it rivals the dust buster when it comes to that great big sucking sound. (Thank you Ross Perot.)

The QVC machine stays because it’s bag less and it’s so satisfying to dump cat and dog hair out into the field. Its like spreading ashes. Letting go of what is no longer necessary. Cleaning house.

What if there was something that could suck the dirt and mess out of our hearts and minds? Something easy to carry, quiet, inexpensive…oh wait there is! It’s intention. Focused desire to clean things up, to purify our surroundings.

Keep intentions plugged in all the time, they use no electricity anyway. They are powered by the energy inside each of us.

Sauca  (sow-cha) is purity and cleanliness. It is the first Niyama, observances between ourselves and our world. Metaphorically vacuum cleaners are sauca assisting tools. Through setting intentions and control buttons we can sweep the place clean. I just wish it didn’t have to be done on such a regular basis. Then again some people feel the same way about yoga.

Namaste- no Spring cleaning done today.