When the time changed last week, for a few days my sleeping (and waking) habits got fuzzy. I like these liminal periods that come along every once in awhile and disrupt my habitual life. The whole week I struggled with a simultaneous sense of growing ambition and fear for the future, and at night I was confusing waking and dreaming. I fell asleep working on consciously falling asleep, as per my yoga teacher’s instructions the week before. I meditated before bed, quieting my mind. I silently chanted a simple mantra as I went to bed. I slid into sleep, and, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, found myself still awake. Awake, while asleep. I just sat there, surprised, not knowing what to do. Then I passed out of consciousness into a regular slumber. That was it, it hasn’t happened again. Yet.
I woke up one morning very early, at about 4:30 a.m., just a day or two after the time change. It was unusually warm for the past two weeks, so Spring was already starting to appear, but that morning I woke up without a thought and just lay there, aware and meditative. I heard the early bird. I wondered why the early bird sang so early. He just does, I guess. I’ll investigate.
Soon after I heard a heron hunting over the river. That sound reached my ear and made me aware of Spring. Just that. The heron’s call made me think of the trees outside my window dressed in all their finery after the bare winter. I thought of kayaking the (admittedly very dirty) river and how fun it was last year. I think I’ll help with the river cleanup later this month.
And who else might be hearing the heron and remembering last summer as they lay in their bed half-asleep?
I’m so grateful that even though I live on a traffic-filled street, my little apartment looks out over the river. I have such interesting neighbors. Today, two weeks later, there were cardinals, grackels, geese, and all kinds of different birds singing outside. I listened to them as I got ready for work, and dug around for my Birds of North America.
Photo Credit: Fabio Gismondi
I am starting a community class next Friday in Rogers Park, please contact me if you’re interested in coming. It will be a donation-based class, since I’m still honing my chops. I should have something up on Facebook in a day or two.
I’m so mental that it only hit me recently that I was actually going to be teaching this stuff. I’m not sure what I was thinking before, but the teaching bit is really good for me because it adds a little gravitas and structure to my training. Otherwise it would just be easy to be sort of half-committed, taking away yet more information about life, but not really having to put it into practice.
I feel I have more responsibility to really know my stuff if I’m going to teach it.
It’s also good for me that yoga is about practice more than philosophy. We do some reading and studying, but even the philosophy we read is very experiential; the yoga sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, they mostly guide, organize and explain the experiences you are likely to have as you delve into the practice. You are a student of yoga, and once you actually start to experience some of its more esoteric effects, which I’ll get into some time, you are an initiate.
You may or may not be able to identify with the level of scariness this word presents to me. The only thing I’ve been really committed to is my resistance to commitment, relatively happy to flit about in the realm of ideas my whole life.
Now I’m so excited to become a teacher, more than I expected. My training has brought me such a different kind of awareness of myself and others, but I understand that half the challenge is to bring that into the world, to help bring it to others.
I can’t be in a yoga class anymore without being very aware of the teacher’s style and personal idiosyncracies. I also can’t help but watch the other students’ postures as well, but without my former judgement. I still have a critical eye but there’s a sense of compassion and understanding underpinning it. I can see more deeply now, and I just want to help people to open to themselves. I know that this process leads to a gradual unfolding of cooperation and insight that brings a more harmonious attitude to life. And, incidentally, an ability to get out of your own way and accomplish what you set out for yourself.
I also look on those I know in my life who are teachers differently. I see their magnanimity, their unselfish service to others. Unlike many intelligent people I know, myself included, the teachers seem more to be without the need to prove something about their intelligence. I think it’s because they are passing it on, while many who simply derive their self-esteem from it, who perhaps feel as if they haven’t performed up to their potential, are constantly looking for positive feedback to support them.
Until we share our talents they remain half-baked. I think there’s a simple balance in life that says that you can only take in so much, then you have to put out a roughly equal amount. In other words, if we don’t deliver, our talents molder. Without that angst, the best teachers seem able to remain open, to be students of the world, seeking to learn and not just to be seen to know.
I marvel to see all of my classmates finding their voices as teachers, a process which is bringing us all both more in to and out of ourselves. Some are so physical and seek the most basic way to articulate movement to the student. The ones who are no BS, put things in a no BS way. It’s pretty entertaining to see. I’m not sure how I’ll be, but I’m striving for an integration of the internal experience with the external, for this has been my challenge. If that sounds vague, I guess it’s about this strange and wonderful feeling I get sometimes in yoga, that the movement is literally starting from somewhere deep inside, from the belly of the breath, and moving into the body/world without modification or self-consciousness.
This reassures me that thinking is not the only way to approach or produce effects in life.
As a consequence, I feel more purposive, confident, and direct. I feel less likely to create drama in my daily life. I don’t sweat the small stuff. The more I seek to give, the more I feel I get. This is a major turning point for me. It’s hard to admit how self-absorbed I’ve been. But when you find your way through a quandary that’s been puzzling you for years, you can’t quibble with the past. You just breathe a sigh of relief to find that it all brought you somewhere.
Learning lessons is fun, isn’t it?
To be continued…
At first I was excited to get down to some crazy yoga shit, to get into handstand, forearm stand and full wheel for more than a few seconds. I grew slightly impatient as the weeks passed and my teachers kept having us do things like downward dog with bent knees, or chaturanga prep. Seriously, at first that just seems like you’re laying there doing nothing. I questioned my commitment. As much as I had balked at yoga classes that caused aches in my low back and arms from too many pushups, I still thought that’s what yoga was. I thought maybe I was too advanced for the program.
I realized soon enough just how inculcated I was into a Western mindset and approach.
Goal orientation and an acquisitive attitude toward life, however much like living in Pacman it may be, is not easy to give up. It’s not even easy to notice, in all the varieties of ways it filters down into every crevice of the way one does things.
I wasn’t alone. In the second or third week, a student asked when we’d get into to more advanced stuff. Our teacher M. said, with slight exasperation (the most unease I’d ever see in her): “We’re not trying to get anything, we’re here to get rid of things!” That quip aside, she explained more gently.
One of the first things I learned was that there is even an attitude there. And that it (wanting to get through it so I can get to the rest of my day) makes it hard, nay almost impossible, to notice the subtle sensations in the body.
Yoga is about letting go of the biases accumulated in the body. In yoga philosophy this is tantamount to saying that yoga is learning about letting go of the accumulated experience that makes you act the same way over and over, based on old information. Experience leaves its marks on the body, most solidly, and on the mind and in life in general. “How you do one thing is how you do everything,” they say. Yoga is a kind of play area to see what you’re like.
This is true of any discipline that targets the body. It’s hard to change, your limits are not something that you can bullshit, and it pushes your buttons, showing your reactions and attitudes pretty quickly. Henry Rollins agrees. (via Medusa)
The body is in some ways the hardest thing to change because it is the most solid thing we have. Years of habitual behavior shows on the body, has been hardened into solidity, and has become the norm. If focus plus time creates things in this world, the body becomes the most clear map on which the past is drawn.
Though the body is most solid, it is still where we can most easily begin to manifest change. That’s because it is also the most accessible way for us to see change. Change in the body (or anything) happens only over time, with sustained effort. When speaking about any of yoga’s benefits, we are taught to preface it with, “Over time with practice…” This inculcates a different attitude. It teaches how change happens, to teach you how to work on other more subtle aspects of life that need work.
Change starts with awareness. Not will, not even understanding, but awareness. The big idea is that in life you just have to notice things. This orients you to the reality of things rather than wishful thinking. And you need to let go of judgment about what you find. Guilt merely feeds denial. This is how the paradox can be: Acceptance leads to change. Although I’d use the word awareness over acceptance, which has a whiff of resignation and irresponsibility.
Our teachers didn’t seem to mind if we were impatient; they were reassuring, but they also just let us be. They said we’d find most of what could sustain us as teachers in our own practice.
I started to slow down when I practiced, building the pose from the ground up, do simpler poses, and became aware of my body in an entirely new way. Using the breath, I could begin to feel and let tightness go.
It worked. Slowly things did change. We all progressed in a somewhat miraculously systematic way. We lost a few along the way, but most of us became devoted. In the process we have become more supportive of ourselves and each other. As a yoga teacher said on NPR recently, who knows why evening out your weight on your feet, hips, shoulders, or setting an intention, or connecting movement to breath, leads to peace of mind and just generally being a happier person, but somehow it does.
To be continued…
I’ve been getting deeper into yoga. I’m in a teacher training program and I graduate in just two months. The program is a rigorous and traditional hatha program, it’s been around since the 60s, was actually one of the first programs for hatha teacher training in the U.S. We have gone steadily through what are called the 8 limbs of yoga, of which asana or postures—that most of us understand to be yoga—are just one part.
It took me a long time to get around to doing this program. I started researching similar trainings four years ago when I was in New York. It seems inevitable how, looking back, that I would eventually do something like this. I’ve always been seeking some deeper understanding of life that seemed elusive.
I didn’t realize how much tension I had accumulated in my body over the years at my office job, doing “knowledge work” and just generally thinking, reading, and talking for most of the day. It seemed normal. Most of the yoga I took then just compounded the problem. The quick, strenuous, movements of traditional exercise—done with the kind of haste with which you make up for lost time—often encourages habitual overuse of stronger muscles, making them stronger, and tighter, while making weaker muscles still more inaccessible.
Yoga, as I’ve learned, is used to correct imbalances in the body and biases in our posture so that the skeleton easily bears the weight of the body, and the muscles don’t have to overwork. And, what came to be over time can only be changed over time.
The aches in my body also reflected the tension underlying my fairly hard-driving nature, something I didn’t even recognize for a long time because it didn’t gel with my laid-back manner. When I was in college, I told a friend I wanted to do yoga to help relax, and she said, “Jeez, Em, If you were any more relaxed, you’d be unconscious!”
It confused me, how others saw me, because even then I felt dissatisfied and tense, despite (or because of) my passive demeanor. Through the years my obsessive habit of overthinking hardened into feelings of stuckness that pervaded my life, and my body… stuck in an eddying whirlpool, not going anywhere, for all the energy I was expending.
Even when I tried to find a solution, I was just using the same techniques—overthinking, a critical problem-solving attitude—that got me into the predicament. Friends used to say to me, “You think too much,” and I’d say: “That’s interesting, I’ll think about that.”
It was only in yoga that I began to learn a different way, and to understand why my approach didn’t work to begin with.
To be continued…
Last relationship article for Industry, just found as I dust off this blog. The original had more explicit details about said religion, but had to pull back. Ah, culture reporting, how I’ll miss you?
I saw a play recently, a solo performance about one woman’s time in a certain popular and celebrity-focused religion—one that has been much in the news over the past year. The performance was manic, self-effacing, and very funny. At one point she mentioned, almost in passing, that she’d been drawn to the church after a series of personal setbacks, including the breakup of a relationship. Well, of course. The salient detail leapt out of the surrounding scene and established itself as a vaguely formed question: Why do people get religion just when they are the most disappointed by life?
Was it simply a consolation for loss, or does the upset applecart of expectations serve some useful purpose—do setbacks motivate us to something greater than ourselves and our piddling desires? Perhaps in the dashed hopes of material success (which either falls flat or doesn’t do what you thought it would) spiritual rewards are all that are left.
relationships not so different
For some relentless (or so they think) rationalists, religions and cults are as good as synonyms. Similarly, good relationships and dramatic trainwrecks are of the same species.
Religion’s significance in people’s lives has decreased in modern life, so maybe now weird cults and idolized relationships are replacing them.
The former often have brutal indoctrination techniques using techniques of sensory deprivation, for example, to create malleable subjects. A charismatic guru type puffs up and then flattens young recruits’ self-importance, often tangling romantically with devotees.
relationships like cults
- Indoctrination from early ages
- Possibilities for isolation, you-and-me-against-the-world thinking
- Potentially controlling dynamics, both aggressive and under the surface
- Resistance to learning how relationships work to learn how to “do” them better, and instead a reliance on emotion, instinct and magical thinking
- Unrealistic expectations
- A certain smug condescension toward outsiders
The proof is not just a guess. Looking through the average ladymag, incredibly heavy marketing techniques surround love, religion, inner peace, etc. Ecology: Save the World! Business: Get Rich Today! Cosmo: Find your Soulmate!
Lastly, similar to cults, relationships are easy to get into, and hard to get out of. When we do leave a dominating relationship, we find we have all this extra free time and energy (and sometimes money). Our focus, now free from obsession, can be self-directed, motivated towards something personally meaningful.
We both crave and fear this kind of total devotion in love and life that relationship brings. We want the greater meaning but dread having to own up to the process. Likewise, the difference between the awe we feel for the state of love and for god is so slim at times as to make their objects indistinguishable. In early country songs, religious songs were always about love and love songs were usually about murder.
As for any expectation of rescue, we can’t help a little pining for Love or God, periodically.
Most of the rewards of life are to be had on more solid ground, in the details, where we live. Everyday needs and challenges are met, and we get closer to each other like a fabric worked over time.
But one day again, it’s not enough; we want something of greater significance. Challenge and conflict over comfort and stability. Lofty goals are hard not to want, but age tempers the impulse, brings them down to earth. Maybe old-fashioned religion (the sudden call to God when, “I never do this!”) and the tendency to fall crazy in love is the balloon we try to float off on, to keep things moving.
The disillusionment of material success (gained or lost) provokes bouts of spiritual or emotional growth, however crazy their tactics may seem.
Originally posted in Industry magazine’s September 2016 issue.
When I ask about it, many people describe their experiences dating online with a kind of tired resignation, the same way they feel about keeping up with a million different online offerings. We even have a new word for ennui in this new universe: FOMO (“fear of missing out,” for the grampses). But there are ways to make the process easier, more productive, and even enjoyable….honest, though, like certain waxing techniques, the effort’s never going to be completely painless.
Be Yourself (No, really!)
Take some time to make your presence be consistent with your personality. OkCupid found that the people who received more 5-star and 1-star reviews were more likely to be contacted than those who mostly received 3 stars. This suggests that it’s better for people to have a strong reaction to you for your own particular quirks. So for pity’s sake, don’t be generic. Flaunt your big nose rather than hide it, talk about your penchant for shower balladry—it’s far more interesting to people than a banal “I like music.” A Note on Pictures: First, have more than one, and from more than one angle, with at least one showing more than just your face. Include an action shot, perhaps doing something you love. Unless you are looking for a co-dependent Peter Pan, don’t have a ton of bar pics with friends, and though you should definitely be you looking your best, your pics should also look like you. Don’t post a 19-year-old pic if you’re in your 50s.
Hone that Chat-Craft
I can only observe from the woman’s perspective, but many men don’t really try to engage us in a real way. They use the same tired come-ons and clichés, thinking maybe women don’t immediately know what they’re doing (working the numbers game). They sometimes they use the comfortable distance of the online experience to vent frustration. To this I say, relax, and step away from the computer. As in any interaction, the first one to get angry loses. Treat every new interaction as an opportunity to meet someone new. Ask questions, and listen.
Hold Yer Judgment Horses
Perhaps it’s crass to put everyone on a reductive rating scale, but everyone does it, especially at first. And it’s worse online, but try not to get too enamored or too dismissive of anyone before meeting. If you have a rapport, move on to a real-life meeting as soon as possible. You’ll find out much more quickly what the person’s about. Plus, people are a lot more forgiving in person than online. If someone isn’t interested in meeting in real life, it’s a sign they may be using the site for validation or as a pass-time.
The Ultimate Hack
The best E-modifications to make are to your own attitude. Check your baggage, and use the feedback you’re getting to turn what can be a time-suck into a useful place to learn. Though we are doing all this with a goal in mind, it still pays not to be too goal-oriented. Have fun, try different approaches (and talk to different people) and remember that most people are just as curious, insecure, longing, and interested in making a connection as you are. Then…limit your time on any site, get off the computer and go do something worth sharing!
This essay first appeared in Industry magazine’s Spring 2016 issue.
The love generation keeps on splitting up. Ah, capricious age!
For younger generations, who are getting married less often and later in their lives, the divorce rate keeps going down. It is Boomers (those who came of age in the 60s and 70s) who are tipping the statistics toward that notorious 50% mark.
Since these people have lived together a lot longer than I can say, I will reserve judgement. When Gen X hits their 50s they may go through a wave of divorce, too. It’s a side-effect of people living longer.
But. Does it not seem inevitable that the original “Me Generation” should be choosing freedom over sta(b)le relationships, even late in life when it’s probably a bad move financially?
What’s behind the uptick in Boomer divorce?
Perhaps it’s just a misguided, old-fashioned attempt to avoid the realities of the onset of old age and death. Sorry, can’t really figure out a way to sugar-coat that one.
Read along in Industry this month. Thanks to my parents for playing along, and not accusing me of intergenerational warfare, and to my brother for originally asking me to “Debunk this 50% divorce rate myth!”
Read Boomer and Bust at issuu.com
My latest Industry column talks about buying a house and being self-reliant, and all the ways that we actually need help regardless of our claims to independence.
After years of not really thinking about it, living off myself by necessity, I was talking to a girl I’d just met at a meditation retreat while doing kitchen duty. As I was talking about my career I listened bored with myself as I expressed frustration with the going rates for writing. “It helps to have a boyfriend who is generous,” I joked. “I wouldn’t want to live off any man, though,” I assured her.
She smiled and said, “You shouldn’t worry about it.”
“I’m not worried,” I said. Instead, I was annoyed, but wasn’t sure why.
Through a turn of fortune I went back to work for myself right after buying my first house. Fortunately I got a good deal, because six months later my position at work was downsized, and I was not only house-poor but also unemployed. Conjuring ways to maintain my dwelling under difficult financial circumstances was a fascinating disjunction – on one hand I clung to my home is an indispensable statement of individualism and identity, but on the other hand I needed help in order to keep it. I had to ask for and receive help from more people I’d ever thought possible, and had accomplished more with their assistance than I ever could have alone. Parents, friends, random acquaintances helped me discover what looking for, buying, financing, and taking care of a house was about. Plus, with the addition of a roommate, I was better off than when I was renting, and the commitment to one place was not a tether as I feared it might be, but instead made me feel grounded and actually freer.
Continue reading in Industry Magazine on Issuu.com here .
Some times I have a hard time figuring out what’s fair game in my relationships to write about. I don’t really poll everyone to find out if they want to be portrayed in my writing, but whether it’s the age or if they are starstruck by the idea of their own thoughts being published, most people don’t mind. They like to talk about their (love) lives and everyone has opinions.
With my personal dealings, in general I tend not to get into the details too much, to protect the feelings of people involved.
But though I confess I have often felt a pang about writing authoritatively on relationships when my own ongoing relationships seemed so confusing, I have been able to separate from my own experience enough to know when I’m onto something more generally true. Much of this perspective comes from talking to people, when they’re interested, about the topics I’m seeking to cover, letting it bounce off the hive mind. I don’t like acting the expert, anyway. But I had to separate my writing from my life more decidedly when I went through a particularly bad breakup. I would not be able to write about it for a few years.
I share part of my story here in the Nov/Dec issue of Industry.