Monday, May 31, 2010

Listen, my children, and you shall hear...

I was supposed to run a quarter marathon yesterday. But, a convergence of (minor) misfortunes--a pulled adductor muscle, stomach flu, head cold--cost me three weeks of training and made running 6.5 miles seem like a very bad idea.

It's so hard to listen to your own advice. Pay attention to just yourself; modify the sequence to suit your body; only you can know if the pose is working or not. All fine and good to suggest during yoga class, but start me slogging down the street and it's all the old voices of junior high school track (too slow, too heavy) whispering in my ear. So, Mother Nature decided to get my attention with a mighty twinge in my right thigh. I thought I'd better listen.

In the beginning o
f this year I trained for, and ran in, a sprint triathlon. I had two goals: 1. To see if I could actually do the work without killing myself (yes) and 2. To tame my hyper-competitive spirit (sorta). Funny how that is such a problem for me--and maybe why yoga appeals so much.

I love swimming. I love riding my bike. Running makes me feel lumpy and slumpy and like I'm just pounding along. But, I enjoy the cross-training and I think it is good for me to have to work on something that doesn't come easily. That has a lot of voices attached to it. I have to remind myself frequently to just do the work and not focus on the fruits (thanks, B-G).

To me, the whole thing is a nice physical metaphor for life. Some things will come easily and be a delight, some things require a lot of work and are a challenge. How can you adapt your thinking so that you will be open to learning from both experiences? Maybe even find some joy in the rough stuff (or at least be at peace with it)?

The leg is fine, now. I have another triathlon in July, that I'm really looking forward to. My massage therapist noted that the yin meridian in my right leg was blocked so I'm working on getting the chi flowing. I went out for a bike ride this afternoon that was lovely. No voices, just breeze and open fields and bird song.

Doesn't that sound nice...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fair Trade

What made Homo sapiens so special? Dr. Ridley argues that it wasn’t our big brain, because Neanderthals had a big brain, too. Nor was it our willingness to help one another, because apes and other social animals also had an instinct for reciprocity. “At some point,” Dr. Ridley writes, “after millions of years of indulging in reciprocal back-scratching of gradually increasing intensity, one species, and one alone, stumbled upon an entirely different trick. Adam gave Oz an object in exchange for a different object.” --NYT review of "The Rational Optimist", by Matt Ridley.

Even the most hardened skeptic of the self-expression free-for-all has to admit that plenty of nonprofessional creators, ignoring the wants and needs of the market, have produced priceless gifts for the rest of us to enjoy.--"Valuing $0" by Rob Walker, NYT Sunday Magazine.

Though the unwise cling to their actions, watching for results, the wise are free from attachments, and act for the well-being of the whole world.--Bhagavad Gita, 3.25

(Isn't it funny how things seem to coalesce when you're trying to come up with a blog post? All these quotes floated across my radar screen this past week, and all seemed relevant.)

I'm a big fan of Web 2.0, and all the kooky, wonderful free stuff that's out there for the downloading (plenty of shite too, I know, but that's part of the fun). I wonder if this is going to be the "good old days" that everyone refers to when we have to start paying for content and subscribing (not that that wouldn't be fair). And I'm proud to be a contributor to the kookiness which, by the way, has been for exactly four years on Saturday.

Sometimes I think about all the "unvalued" time I've put into this venture. By now, once-a-week for four years (231 posts), it's more like a hobby/habit than anything else. I feel obligated to stay current; I think about what I'd like to formulate into an essay; I get interesting feedback. [BrooksHall wrote a nice piece about this last week] By putting my little offering out there ("gift" seems too grand a title for these random musings), I feel like I've done my work and any fruits that result are a delightful extra. And there have been quite a few fruits (so to speak)--internet friendships, writing opportunities, teaching opportunities, new students, yoga-blog-community membership. Actually, a wealth of riches in exchange for about 45 min.s of my time every 5-7 days.

Would that my physical practice was so regular. But, in a way, they are of the same piece. Some people learn best by doing, others by reading. I float somewhere in the middle, as I like to think and learn and study in addition to do, and it all informs my work on the mat. This writing exercise, such as it is, has deepened my understanding of asana and pranayama and strengthened my teaching in ways I never could have imagined. I am a person of the book, to be sure.

Thanks, everyone, for accepting this little blog as an item of exchange. Unvalued it may be (at least as part of a market economy), it is priceless to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deep Thoughts

Several things inspired this week's post: my 80-year-old teacher, Nicky Plaut; in Madison, Linda Sama's lovely, thoughtful birthday essay; a bit in the NYT's Science Times. Overall theme: the wisdom that comes with age.

I watched a beautiful, young thing jog around the track at the Y, today. At each pass by the mirror, she checked herself out and, by the end of the run had rolled her tank top way up and her shorts way down. I guess her hipbones needed to cool off. I thought about how much energy you expend on your appearance as a youngster--am I pretty/strong/buff/tan/thin enough? And, I guess,when you've got such smooth skin, such endless energy, and haven't tasted much disappointment, it all seems like something that really matters.

One thing I find so inspiring about my teacher in Madison, is that even though she inhabits an obviously aging body, she moves with such grace and ease. I watched her feet while we were doing Adho Mukha Svanasana, and they looked so strong and balanced. Nothing scraggly or misshapen, no bulging veins or discoloration. Instead of seeing her body as something that must be tamed and offered up for others' approval, she presents it as an accomplice in good health. She works with it, rather than against it, accepting the limitations (she now uses a headstand-chair) but still moving through all the poses her much-younger students obviously struggle with. I guess that's what 50 years of yoga will do...coupled with a good attitude.

This is where Linda's post and the NYT article come in. Linda talks about the acceptance that comes with age, and the peace and calm that result from that acceptance. The article is about a study showing adults over 60 are much better negotiators, judges, and counselors because of their ability to see multiple perspectives and their recognition of the limits of knowledge. There is no black-and-white. (Well, as long as you're not an aging member of the Tea Bag Party) I guess you start to realize that all the fighting isn't worth it. There's nothing to Win and you just wear yourself out.

I'm still pretty early in my Middle Age, but I hope I to take all of this to heart and let it guide. They say that Youth is wasted on the young, but I think I agree with the other maxim that says, "you can have everything, just not at once." You don't get boundless energy and an unlined face with deep wisdom--that would be overwhelming. As I move towards more lines, though, I think I'm just fine with the trade-off.

Wisdom has more staying-power, anyway.

Peace out, y'all.

Friday, May 07, 2010

No Fruit for You!

Don't worry, I'm not about to go all Atkins on you. Myself, I can't think of anything more delicious than a fresh peach or tomato in season...but I digress.

This is Week One of elephant journal's discussion of the Bhagavad Gita, and what a response! 142 comments, with more accumulating. It's such an interesting mix, emotional responses from people who use it as a guide for living, academic responses from those who want to discuss translation and context, tentative responses, a few hot air responses (gotta admit, I hit the *scroll down* button whenever I see the word "ontological")--
all lovingly moderated by Bob Weisenberg.

We're reading Chapters 1 and 2 for next Monday. I am immediately taken with one of the themes of the second chapter:
"You have a right to your actions, but never to your action's fruits." (2.47)
and "Pitiful are those who, acting, are attached to their action's fruits." (2.49)
and "The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone." (2.50)

That's a lot of metaphorical produce! But I love it as an image and it is truly one of those things that can make you crazy--clinging to those fruits. Especially wh
en said actions concern another person. You do what you can, own the doing, but the result is not under your control. Worry, fret, get angry all you like, but you can't make those fruits be the way you want them to be.
I don't think this means be compl
acent. Since your contribution to the whole endeavor is the actions, those should be done as conscientiously as possible. I think you can even hope for a desired outcome--if you're still new to the wisdom business--but don't get too disappointed by what actually happens. Or too excited, for that matter (happy vs satisfied). It all could change in a matter of seconds.

It certainly isn't the first time we've been warned of this kind of attachment. Bhante Sujatha told a similar tale at a Christmas-time meditation I went to last year. Funny how this message seems to reach across time and cultures...says something of the quirks of human nature. Just. Let. Go.

So, plants those seeds. Nurture them, tuck mulch around them, sprinkle water, trim dead leaves. Appreciate the fresh salsa, but don't take the blight fungus personally when everything turns brown and falls off over the course of two days. (Man, I sure could have used the Gita during last year's gardening season...)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


You can keep your stinkin' Olympics. What I wanna know is: If I do enough yoga, will I be able to do this?

In my humble opinion, the red gingham bloomers are way cuter than, well, just about anything in black lycra.
(Thanks Meikka C. for the link)