Monday, October 31, 2011

Letting Go

October 31, 2011

I have been thinking a lot about the practice of letting go.

The support of the positive – as if there were two electrical charges at work.
Letting go of that which does not serve your goal.
That’s complicated, isn’t it.

What goal at what time? When does determination switch over into holding on?

It helps me to reframe the idea that the things I want to do that make me feel bad are simply standing in my way. Lets me not fight with the wanting them quite so much.

I get confused about detachment though.
I wonder if we in the west are really capable – our whole society entrenched, as it were, in attachment and desire.

I believe in holding on.
I believe in ambition.

Furthermore – fruitcakechild that I was, I saw a lot of the practice of letting go. I think there is a way that, in the hands of the Western practitioner, the ideal of detachment can become sublimation in an instant.

Truth, right. That’s the goal. In the personal practice what I am finding is the relationship of listening to the body – what it has to say. What the difference between what it needs and what the momentary desire of the bad habit is, furthermore.

I learned this first from the poet Marie Howe. She teaches, listen to the poem. It sounds ridiculous at first – but when you begin to practice trust and understanding deepen and grow. The poem will tell you what it needs.

In a way it feels antithetical. As if maybe following the whim of the moment could make it harder to work toward a clear progression. At the same time it feels suddenly as if the path forward is made up of so many very small choices…

I love the way that language often holds its own antithesis... 

Letting go -- as in to release the habit of something -- a person -- a glass of wine -- violent television...  
Letting go -- as in falling deeply into something -- letting go of fear and resistance in order to experience and be present...

Letting -- As in to allow
Go -- As in to move forward

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Voice

October 27

Chanting and I, we go way back…

I learned to chant when I was – somewhere around 5, I suppose. Fruit cake that I am.
It was summer with my father – I remember he wore only white cotton and black china flat shoes – he cooked completely vegan – and he meditated for what seemed like an eternity every day… and he taught me how to chant.

Om Mani Padri Om.

Om – the sound the spirit – the beginning and end of the universe…
Om is the jewel in the lotus of the heart.
Isn’t that beautiful? Inside my body there is a beautiful pure white lotus flower, inside the flower there is a shining clear jewel, inside the jewel resides the spirit of the universe…
total fruitcake land, I’m telling you.

Still, the faith that former alter boy taught me in those formidable years has fared me very well in my life.

Both of my parents used to listen to Gregorian chants – which, if you haven’t heard them, are truly astounding. The voices of the monks resounds and fills the space and the caverns of the psyche…

In high School I learned about Artemisia Gentleschi – her science and her art and her mystical chants…

Later, someone very close to me also went deep into Indian religion… and he asked me to do with him a chanting class. A woman (I don’t know what her station was – teacher, indeed…) came to his little apartment in the East Village – where he used to collect crack vials on the street… she came and she taught me the body mechanics of chanting. She gave me a mantra I don’t remember – I told her I had my own, but she said I should never say “OM” – that it was believed too sacred to speak.

Lately it has bothering me that so many teachers will ask you to chant but won’t tell you what you are chanting. I think it is cavalier. I think if we are not connected to the language we are disconnected from connection with others…

I like the way at the beginning of a yoga class which asks students to chant the voices waiver and clash… how at the end of the class – of two hours of practicing communally – the voices flow together and build into one sound.

Yesterday I tried chanting OM in my living room.

Amazing how such a simple – and known – exercise could bring up so many feelings of self consciousness, fear, self flagellation… I could barely hear myself. I could barely force the sound out of my mouth and throat. Couldn’t feel it in my chest or my head at all.

As a writer, I have practiced voice for a long time – practiced and studied and come to know and trust… But my physical voice is always a struggle. I speak quietly. I grow quiet. I used to fantasize about being mute.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


October 25, 2011

I think I expect that entry and existence will be greeted with the same energy. But today they are different…

Funny, yesterday I was a little dreading Sweet Teacher... her warm ups are so hard. Sometimes they feel like torture -- and I almost didn't go. Of course, what I was expecting was the opposite from what came. She even forgot to have us introduce ourselves -- just dive in and rub your partners shoulders... it felt so good on Monday morning. Such a gift of an approach. 

My approach to headstand was so comfortable today – from quiet strength of the core – no wall, no waiver.

But I feel weak. Balance is difficult. Upside down is difficult. A little better than yesterday -- but the same feeling. I only stayed maybe a minute or a  half a minute twice… I didn’t force anything… I listened to someone for several hours this weekend who said, “don’t bully your breath – don’t bully the pose…”

I think I think about building to strength… like a staircase…
but that’s not right, it occurs to me today…

Strength is as fluid as a day, if we listen. It comes and goes.
I think that what is inside is independent from my knowledge. From what I think it should be like today…

It feels so much stronger to notice the weakness than to try to prove to myself that I am strong...

Monday, October 24, 2011

My backbends...

October 24

A funny thing happened to me, on the way off my mat…

Sweet Teacher said to me, as I was lying in happy baby pose/ dead bug pose (which for those of you who don’t know, finds a practitioner on her back with her legs squat open and her feet in her hands – completely open)… Sweet Teacher says to me, “That was one hell of a wheel!”
It was a very strange moment.
First off – I adore this woman. I feel like even after only a few months she has changed my life forever – given it more grace and more understanding and more push and more gentleness…

Praise is lovely, when it comes from someone you trust and love.
Praise is so awful. It makes me self-conscious. Last year I started forcing myself to say “thank you” to praise. And just saying that has helped me understand the nature of acceptance – of accepting other people’s appreciation – other people’s energy and kindness… So many of us are so good at accepting our faults…

So I said thank you. I felt self-conscious. I wondered what on earth I looked like up in wheel pose… you never see yourself practice – like sex, I suppose – so there is no relational scale…

But this was not quite that. There was another strangeness to the idea of the praise. I suppose it comes from which pose it was, really. When she said nice job as she twisted me into a very painful bind minutes earlier – or helped me get my feet over my head, which proved difficult today, I heard encouragement and gratitude for courage…

But my wheel… my back bends. I struggle to build the muscles around enough to support the suppleness therein… My back craves a deep, high bend – and when a practice doesn’t include it, I long for the stretch… the natural nature of the way my very own back wants to extend…

So when she noticed, it felt so otherly I was hard pressed to answer…
It has nothing to do with me. There is no connection with pride in this practice. It comes of the body – a body I struggle to accept and to love… Good morning, sweet body.

We have these gifts, yes. They are given to us. We encourage or we don’t – the flight to which we are capable.

Maybe today it is to try to understand the gifts – the movements – the way we hold our strength and appreciate the strength. Love for the bravery and love for the ease. Thank you, back – for allowing me to bend and shift – for holding me straight through the change of the seasons…

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Tree

October 21

Strength grows – like a child, right in front of me while I feel so weak...
Core knowledge – the feeling of form – an understanding of endurance of allowance of courage. The hold of the severed begins… before trust, before understanding, before the fall is in the past.
It is fall. The colors and the leaves – they don’t need to be told…
hold… let go… face the sun.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Open Heart

October 20

A smattering of voices come to me this morning as I think about practice.

Just after I wrote the last entry, the therapist asked if I had ever used the Metta prayer. Funny how that works. She asked if I had tried saying it for parts of myself… I said I had been saying it for my heart – “what does that mean?” she said… of course, she didn’t mean to say, you have two terminal degrees in writing, you should know better than to use a word like heart.

Maybe I meant specifically the part that has always been vulnerable. The child-raw – the accepting – the needing -- the part we reach open to the sky.

The part that has been tied to something that is not tied to me.

A friend said he’d been reading. That friend had a heart attack not terribly long ago. Dearest Jon, may your heart be healthy… and Elizabeth. The hearts I have most worried about in my life – for their proximity to air. Heart opening. Open heart. When Elizabeth had surgery I sobbed…

I have been thinking a lot about what it takes to move something into the past. Scalpels and broken beliefs… I suppose they are the falls. Sweet teacher always says to embrace fall – to push yourself until you fall…

But there is a place too, where we can become cavalier – where we can not respect ourselves or our own fragility…

On Tortola once, when I was about 17, there was a tremendous storm. I love Caribbean storms.  The force – the way everything stops – the sound and the nature.

But that year the sea took two German tourists. They were walking on the rocks. No one felt all that bad for them – no one knew them – it was just so stupid.

Pose until you fall – but make sure your risk is in check.

There is a thing about poets – the history of women poets who look like me – and the craziness thereof – Plath and her unhealed beauty and brilliance…

A friend said to me once “can’t you play with that edge… see how close to crazy you can get and write from there…” I know the force of this ocean. He is a tourist.

I guess I am thinking about all the different ways to fall. Isn’t that all we do – test limitations…

But there is no question when they are exceeded. When a living thing has been cut into.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Toward Well Healed

October 17

What does it mean to change your life? What does it mean to put into place decisions and well thought out ideas?

I have been thinking about this as I play with times and amounts and poses and self in this new practice of mine…

I’ve heard it takes three months to change a habit. I have heard it takes 18 times to do something and make it your own.

I teach from a project by Robert Pinsky often – the favorite poems project.
In one video a young Haitian photographer discusses why he love’s Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candle Stick.” I love his reading because he’s passionate and brave and sometimes seems wrong to me – but that is the beauty of poetry reading…
I am also always caught on and intrigued by his description of Plath – as being from a “well healed existence…”

This is fascinating to me. Well, first, the idea that Plath was anywhere near well or healed… but isn’t in there also the concept that life is born in a way that requires healing…

this feels right to me… and I am intrigued in part because of Plath’s lack of such healing. I think a lot about what it means to come from her type of background… my type of background…

I went to a meditation retreat once – it was about love and kindness – co-taught by a former Tibetan Monk and a Jewish New York author.

We are all healing.
We learned the “Meta Prayer” – a prayer for love and kindness – I still say it most days, five years or so later. You say the prayer for the peace of people easy and close to you and people far away from you too… the scope and the shift allow for the perspective of the world to change.

There are monks in the mountains saying these prayers for all of us every day.
Can you feel it?

But lately I’ve been saying it for my heart. May my heart be safe. May my heart live in ease.

The beginning, perhaps, on the path to well healed…

Thursday, October 13, 2011


October 13

Last night I fell asleep thinking about the difference between doing something with and without intention.

What does it mean, to me, if I force myself through a sun salutation because I promised… what does it mean if in that process I don’t salute the sun… what does it mean if I do things because I have to, without my heart.

Of course, we have to do that all the time. For lots of reasons.
But isn’t what I’ve promised myself here a few minutes a day of heart.

I couldn’t clear my way to the mat yesterday – and didn’t want to go to it half assed… Though, I suppose, that is part of the point. You go, and then you find your way in…

For the past few days I have been struggling. Not with commitment or belief – but implementation.

It is so easy to let important things disappear forever.

Sunday I went to class – and it felt good to lean on that support – and it felt good to get that good a work out…

But Monday and Tuesday there was life. Monday the kids were home from school – and Tuesday I went to the gym, where I haven’t been in a week or so…

And it’s not just the yoga, it’s the writing.
I am a writer. I have not written for two years. I have fallen away from my heart and my pen and I have not been able to find my way back…

Clearing the space… creating the space… allowing the space…

There are so many layers of resistance – there is the habit layer – there is the other things layer – there is the difficulty layer…
But there is, beyond all that, the fear of failure.

I find this so strong right now – in practice – in art in love…
To say, broken heart. It means nothing. It is cliché and intangible.
The self is afraid of itself. It is healing, with parts in slings and parts in shards.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Up Side Down Time

October 9

I have done a head stand every day for several days. In the beginning, my arms were exhausted after about 5 seconds. 

Yesterday when I was standing on my head, sweet teacher said, to someone else, the goal is for you to take a five minute headstand. I think I fell out of my pose. 

A five minute headstand? She must be insane.

Today, I went to class again. I am still feeling so achey and sore and tired that I felt like I needed the support and I wanted to feel the movement. 

I stood upside down for a minute and a half. I didn't fall out -- I simply wanted to take child's pose.
I think in a week I will try for five minutes. What if that is like this whole thing -- or the drawing exercise… 

what can time teach that nothing else can?

Partner Poses

October 8

One of the things about this class is that the teacher is very into community. She makes us talk to each other -- smile at each other -- touch each other.
"the worst thing about your day can not be how close you are to someone else."

Sometimes I dread going in there just for this reason. I always leave feeling more connected.

And today is a day of cleansing and repentance. I actually was going to fast and go to temple -- which I do some times… I love this day.

But my oldest friend in the world asked me to go to yoga instead. And out to breakfast. Today, that seemed more purifying. 

In one pose we were doing a deep forward bend -- and my friend put her feet on my back, with her back on the wall -- and pushed. For the first time i felt like the real pressure in my hip was being confronted.

And it was really nice to be partnered with someone I consider a partner. While it is so nice to practice putting your trust and your hands in the hands of a stranger, it is incredible to take a moment to be supported by the truly supportive in your life. To trust them and to be able to talk to them as you push yourself; push through problems; help them on with their own space and shape. 

I am often amazed by the healing of touch. To hold hands -- and to simply feel another person.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Good morning, Sweet Body

October 6th and a half.

I was so sick yesterday. I was in pain all day. I got depressed – my whole body hurt.
My kids were also sick – my daughter has an intense phobia of vomit and some kid did just that in school today. She didn’t want to go back today. My son also was really wanting face time – his snotty beautiful I’m going to make you so much sicker face…

I could not bear the mat. I felt my body would break – I kept telling myself, if I got onto it, it would let me listen better to my body but I didn't want to listen.

I suppose, the fact is, I didn’t want to listen to my body. I didn’t want to hear what it had to say. Furthermore, I was super annoyed at it for screwing up my day.

By the end of the day it was all I could do to lie in my bed in corpse pose – slightly wishing I was a corpse – and breathe.

It’s not a small thing. Breathing. It’s easy to forget – and it’s easy to underestimate.

When I was little I learned to meditate with my father. If I wanted to be in the room with him I had to do what he was doing. He would sit in front of a candle and chant. Om mani padri om. Om is the jewel in the lotus of the heart. Om.

I hated it. I was squirmy and fidgety and bored. Far better to go back into the other room and search for Kenny Rogers on the radio.

Years later, when it came to prenatal breathing classes I refused. I did, in fact, refuse and speaking of meditation until after my kids were born. I was firmly routed in the idea that I would take drugs and that the process would be… well, whatever it was.

But when the contractions started, the training came back all on its own. My oldest friend, who had carefully studied meditation for months before her own birth – and had found it marginally helpful – watched me in disbelief. “How do you know that – that’s everything I learned.”

The thing about practice is that it does support you – when you need it. When you learn things they become part of you – inside – part of your being.

Emily Dickenson’s punctuation was another thing I learned like that.

The teacher says, good morning sweet body – in her beautiful Australian accent…

Good morning, sweet body.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Protection, Support, Leaning

October 5

Today I am thinking about the relationship between protection, support and leaning.

Rushing in without protection is reckless. Someone told me I was that way once – when I was just out of my marriage. And I suppose they were right. I think it’s easy to be reckless when you have been cooped up too long – haven’t flung yourself at a wall or a feeling or a destination – for as long as you can remember.

It doesn’t work, of course. You are off balance – the dog is trying to lick your face so that getting your feet over your head is, seriously, impossible.
Protection. A crate for the dog. A shirt that is not going to come down over your face causing you to look like some moron on TV who just got immobilized by a simple swipe of the hand…

Support. It is amazing to me all the muscles that go into one fluid movement of upside down. The need for each piece of each arm to be aligned. I’m working on the endurance of staying upside down longer – but the getting up is so different from day to day. Yesterday, my first head stand was effortless. Without thought. Today I could feel disquiet everywhere. I stayed up longer when I managed the pose – but I felt the breeze of my body – reconnecting to the mat and faring through the shifts of balance.

And then there’s leaning. I am a leaner.
I heard an interview with the biographer of John Lennon yesterday on NPR – he was talking about how Lennon had been forced to choose between his parents at a very young age – how horrible that had been for him. How as a result he always had partners – created strong bonds to not be alone.

I think I’m like that. And it’s survival, of course – along with healthy connection. But I think it can be debilitating too –

The wall makes me believe I would fall on my head without it there. The wall, of course, can not make me believe anything. I believe that the wall gives me support even when I don’t touch it – so that without it – with it – I don’t trust myself.

I don't trust myself. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


October 4

It is often extremely hard for me to do things without being told what to do.
This is a very strange thing, because no one has ever really told me what to do at all… I look at my mat and I think, if I go there by myself – I will feel silly. I sit on the mat and I think, what will I possibly do.

I wrote my first poetry book when I was 10 years old. I was in this dismal enormous school in Maine – fifth through twelfth grades and a jarring shift from my previous little Montessori open classroom… The teacher wanted me to do a project with her for a gifted and talented program (imagine a time when there was money in education for such things) – but she said, “I know you can do the work – but it has to be independent. I don’t know if you can do something independently.”

I was surprised she knew that about me. I did it. It was because she gave me permission – that I could do it then.

I have been practicing yoga for 10 years. Beyond that, I grew up with yoga and meditation – less as a practice, but more like learning swimming, in a way. So that when I came to it as an adult, it felt like a familiar old friend.
I say this to prove my credentials, I think. To tell myself I have the right to want what I want. But it doesn’t mean anything to me at all.

I want to stand on my head.

What if I fall. What if I hurt myself. What if someone sees me – or if I see myself as a fool.

Sometimes I crave movement – sometimes I imagine.

If it gives you pleasure… the new teacher says.
She also has us fold our mats in quarters before head stand. Imagine, it doesn’t have to be hard – the floor… doesn’t have to be unyielding or solid or painful…

So – the first definition of “Permission” in the OED is “The action of permitting, or giving leave.” The definition of “Permit” is “To allow, suffer, give leave, not to prevent.”
The second definition of Permission is, “Giving up. Abandonment.”

I can’t quite get my mind around it, but it feels like an inversion, doesn’t it?
The inherent nature of the relinquishing of power…

What is the relationship between not preventing and abandoning?

Monday, October 3, 2011

This is the first time I have wanted to write in over a year.

I have been planning on starting up the blog again, but have been struggling as to what it was that I wanted to do with it. I have been intending for some time to write about water. I thought that would be a natural second year to learn one thing about water every day… It is a natural sister to oil and certainly does seem to be our next major issue.

But it has never felt right.

In my first year of Product of Compression I learned far more about myself than I ever expected -- I learned about my writing and my own personality. I learned a fraction of a fiction about oil -- which has deepened my understanding of the world exponentially... but I am not really interested in another year long exploration of some mushy mix of poetry and journalism.

What I love, is the practice. The commitment -- and the unfolding understanding of life that comes from long projects.

Product of Compression.

The name came from a definition about the creation of oil. And the oil, in so many ways, became a metaphor for myself to understand how I felt about and understood the world around me.

So much of my life, I believe, is the product of compression...

I have a story I often tell my college students when they are struggling over the many drafts I give them in the attempt at showing them the layers of understanding work.
I was in college -- in a drawing class -- I was an art student surrounded by academics -- and that class was a haven for me.
One day the prof assigned us a 10 hour still life.  It was really ugly -- a boot, a tea pot, something stuffed. Nobody did it. A few hours -- maybe 5. I did 11. I just wanted to see -- I figured if she was assigning it, there would be something I would learn by seeing my way through the time -- letting go and trusting the process.
It was amazing -- the drawing began to live. I also learned about small changes -- of light, of things on a table -- of a room. So much lives and breathes around us when we begin to notice. So much is learned in our body -- our fingers and our seeing. It was an ugly still life --  and at the end the teacher looked at me and said, "you really spent 10 hours?" incredulous and I wondered if she had been cavalier with our attention… But what I learned from that assignment has carried with me always.

In my life I am dedicating more time to journalism, and so in this Blog I think it is time for a more personal practice.

I have a new yoga teacher. She is absolutely amazing. She has a lovely music way of speaking, and a teaching style which pushes the body to pain -- and strength -- and understanding. I've taken to taking her class on Monday morning. And each week I find myself joining her on the type of path that comes when I am open and receptive and ready to grow.

At the moment, I am in the process of deep recovery. Over the last six months, my body and my heart and my life have all experienced the kind of wounds that radiate down into the core of personal pain and fear…

Last week she had us do this strange pose -- she said it came from days as a dancer -- lying on your back you open your legs, with very bent knees, and let them drop open. Then you roll from one side to the other slowly -- letting one leg and then the other take the lead -- without pushing anything -- and feel what it is like to have different parts of body lead.

One of my injuries is in my right hip. It has kept me in constant pain for nearly a year. How I got this injury is ironic beyond ability to convey (sex) -- and got worse over time as I tended to every other piece of my life (affair) first.

What I noticed that morning was what it felt like to lead with an injured part. My right hip couldn't lead, you know. It could only stop me and fill me with pain. In isolating the muscles, I had no choice but to respect their limitations and their current state.

Much of my life is in that state these days. My heart.

I do not have the strength to lead with that muscle. I can only stretch it -- see if I can begin to ease the blocks -- begin to open the joints and the memory of movement.

Product of Compression.

Let me say here that I was raised a hippy fruit cake -- and hated it.
I was raised on carob, knew how to seed marajuana at the tender age of 6, chanted in hidnu and ate glutton roast in the 70s. I did, indeed, sing Kumbaya.
I never wanted any part of such things.
I fell in love with a republican. I went to Smith. I did everything I could to never ever to talk about anything anything like this ever. Ever.

Product of Compression.

I want to learn one thing about life everyday for a year. I am afraid of going out on my own. A personal practice has been taunting me for years -- I'm afraid of any path that I have to quiet to explore -- I only walk in circles -- I like to be told what to do...
Today the teacher gave us three ways of working into being upside down. One was strong and energetic. One was assisted. The third was slow and supported. Measured. I do things best that way.

I am going to begin 365 days of yoga practice. And for each of those days I will write about the practice. I would like to see what will happen to my understanding of the world and myself. Watch what I will grow to learn and understand.

I think in the end this will all be related to oil. We will just have to wait and see…