Wednesday, January 21, 2009

for my students at Kripalu, January 2009

I arrived at Kripalu in a snowstorm. My driver met me with a hug, a bottle of water, and a fruit bar. My luggage showed up, although it was wet from sitting in a blizzard on the tarmac in Chicago. My driver, like many of the hearty northeasterners I met last week, was undeterred by the weather. You just do what you do.

I met my class for the first time last Sunday evening. They came from everywhere. They were open and willing and brave, brave, brave. One wanted to love again. One wanted to start writing again. One wanted to find her voice. All wanted to show up and do the hard work of writing and healing.

Authentic truth without judgment is always clean. It may sting, but it doesn't wound. Truth without judgment heals. Learning to listen to yourself without judgment is the first step. My class stepped up. I taught them to shake. They stood, breathed (3 parts - belly, chest, collarbone) and began to shake. They shook for five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. They shook fiercely and they shook gently. They stomped the floor. They laughed. They turned inward as they shook things loose, and then they wrote and on the buoy of breath returned from their journeys. They could leave the sadness, the traumas, the wounds because they inhaled fully and exhaled fully. We worked on complete exhales. Let it all go. All of it. When you can breathe fully, you can live fully. They wrote with startling clarity of wounds of decades ago and wounds of last week. They wrote of hopes, memories, and connections. They just wrote, and they wrote real because they had moved into their cells. We shook it out. Ate mindfully. Slowly. Wrote some more. Shook it out. Stretched. Wrote some more. Day after day after day.

They lightened. They found voices and stories and feelings. Not because of me. Because of them. Because of their bodies and their movement and their breathing. Because they learned to look inside for their teacher, not outside themselves. Because they embraced sacred listening.

Kripalu provided a container. Three organic meals a day. Yoga three times a day. Kirtan, drumming, dancing in the evenings. Indescribable views of the Berkshires. Kripalu provided a foundation for them to push up against, arms to hold them, and doors to let them go. Kripalu is alive, and my wish for my students is that they don't return to their "regular" lives. We come to places like Kripalu to remember what it is like to live authentically. We come to remember what it is like to listen with compassion to our inner voices. We come to detach from the noises and distractions. We come to remember what it feels like to be light. It's not an either/or choice. Retreat or real life. Take the embodiment of the retreat into your lives. There is no separation but that which you create. Stay with the breath. Laugh often. Listen within first. When you trust yourselves, you will no longer have doubts about the next step to take.

I left Kripalu in bright sunlight and -5 degrees. When I arrived nine hours later in Phoenix, it was 75 degrees at midnight. I made it back home to Prescott the following afternoon. It's been warm and sunny. No swirling snow or ice crystals in the air. My students are, as all my students are, a part of my body now, a part of my story.

Remember the verse from the Tao we talked about all week:

When the guest comes, make hot tea.
When the guest leaves, throw it out.

And this, from yesterday's breathtaking (or breath filling) inaugural poem by Elizabeth Alexander:

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

May your words always build bridges and connections, and may you continue to walk and write with balance and breath.

Jai Bhagwan

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dear Laraine, Love Laraine

Dear Laraine,

I am writing to you from Kripalu. I thought I would take the time to give you some helpful hints for your trip here. I hope they haven't arrived too late. It is very different here, and no matter how much you think you are prepared, you will likely not be.

Here are some new terms:

1) De-ice. This is both a noun and a verb. It is a common action in many airports that are not in Arizona. De-icing a plane sounds like a huge thunderstorm is happening on the plane. De-icing smells like papaya and it is green like monster snot. The pilot will come on the speaker and say, "We are deicing the plane now and getting some ice protection. It will smell like papaya. Do not be alarmed. I know you can't see out the window because of all the white stuff outside that is blowing around, but you don't need to worry. I've done this before." You will not, at the time, appreciate the trademark humor of Southwest Airlines.

2) Gluten-free. You've seen the little stickers in the store. You already try to eat a large number of foods that are gluten-free, but you have yet to make the complete gluten-free plunge. You will find that you will soon be hungry enough to take this gluten-free plunge and you will stop reading the labels for the food and just start putting them in the little black Buddha bowls they give you so you won't take large portions. You will dream of cheese, but it will pass.

3) Airport shutdown. This will not happen to you on the way to Kripalu, but it almost will in Chicago. Chicago is prepared for this. You are not, and you have difficulty trusting that anyone can do anything in snowy weather, especially fly an airplane. As you board your flight in Chicago for Albany, the storm will be just about squarely over the city. Southwest (trademark humor again), will tell you to hurry up and board and don't stand in the aisle and put your things away quickly because they're about to shut down the airport and you know you don't want to get stuck here so go go go. You will imagine the earth beneath your feet and you will pretend that you are not in a white out.

4) White out. Just like it sounds. You don't know weather can do this, but it can, and it really is white, and you really can't see anything, and people are relatively unconcerned about it.

5) - 5 degrees. This is not, actually, just like it sounds. You have been cold at 40 degrees. You think cold is like heat. Anything over 95 degrees feels about the same. You figure anything below 35 degrees will feel about the same. This is absolutely not true, and it is a dangerous assumption to make. - 5 degrees feels like knives.

6) Wind chill. OK,so you've never lived in a place where wind chill happened. It sounds very dramatic on the weather channel. -5 degrees feels like knives. -5 degrees with a windchill factor of -25 feels like machetes. It takes longer to get chopped to bits with knives. One or two hacks with a machete will take care of it. Pay attention to the wind chill factor. When the guest sitting next to you in the lounge says she's from Canada and today is COLD, take note.

7) The sun is not the sun you think it is. It will be very disconcerting for you. You have grown up and lived places where the sun is warm. Whenever the sun comes out, it warms up. So, when the snow stops and there is a day with sun, you are programmed to believe -- ah! It's going to be 45 today and glorious. No. It is not. It may be glorious, but it will not be 45. Here's the very strange thing: Sometimes it's colder when the sun is out than when there are clouds in the sky.

8) A dry snow. You know how you like to tell people from Florida that Arizona has a dry heat? Well, the northeast has dry snows. I still do not understand this, but I will tell you that you cannot put enough lotion on. Your skin will feel like a lizard's, and your hair will become scarecrow like. You will wonder how there can be 18" of snow outside and no moisture in the air, but it is true. Your towel will dry faster in Massachusetts than in Arizona. This is especially disconcerting.

9) You cannot just step outside "for a minute" to take a picture without putting on many items of clothing, including a hat, gloves, and a scarf. There is no such thing as "for a minute" when it is -5 degrees. You will spend hours drinking steaming ginger tea to try and heat your core back up.

10) Jackets, scarves, and gloves. There is nothing made that is warm enough for you. You are a child of the south and a resident of the southwest. Your body does not understand this weather. No coat is enough. No gloves are enough. You need to just stay inside where it is a beautiful 70 degrees and walk around in bare feet and look at the crazy people cross country skiing.

11) Snow does not melt. The snow that you are used to goes away in two or three days. This snow does not go away. Apparently ever. Ever.

12) Ice crystals. When it is -5 degrees there are ice crystals hanging in the air. You can't see them but you can feel them. They feel like tiny toothpicks on your skin. I don't understand what this is, but if the very oxygen is freezing, you have no business being outside in it.

13) Icicles. You will suddenly understand how someone can get killed by an icicle. They hang from everything and they are very heavy and when they crack and fall it sounds like a glacier moved.

14) Snow plows look like Wall-E. They begin at 5 a.m. and they circle round and round the building. The headlights are up top because the plow is at the base. They push and lift snow. They dump snow. They push and lift snow. They dump snow. This is what they do and they are at peace with it.

15) Cars get snowed in and iced in, resulting in an interesting phenomenon for the owner of the car. Apparently everyone carries a snow shovel in their car. Nice people at Kripalu have ice picks. They can be summoned to help you pick out your vehicle. No one should have to do this.

16) Wind. This is not the wind you know. This is not the monsoon wind, not the crazy March wind, not the ill wind that blows no good. This is Rudolph wind (from the original claymation show). This is abominable snowman wind. This is wind that travels through the walls and around the four-paned windows and into your bones. You will understand why people from cold climates moved to Phoenix.

Keep these things in mind, and you will have a wonderful trip. Stay inside. Drink hot tea. Drink lots of water. Remember that the sun is cold (Chant it: Sun is cold. Sun is cold. Sun is cold). You will be well.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

On Fear and Flying

Is anything more counterintuitive than boarding a metal tube with 300 strangers and shooting yourself 30,000 feet in the air at 800 mph? Maybe sailing around the world in a single mast sailboat, or climbing to the top of Mt. Everest with only an apple, but not much else. I'm preparing to go to Kripalu this weekend to teach for a week on Writing Begins with the Breath. Kripalu is located in Lennox, Massachusetts. There will be snow (see pictures above of Kripalu in winter). There will be cold. Really cold. Last week it was cold in Prescott. It was 45. The folks at Kripalu have not been really helpful when it comes to winter fears. "Dress warmly!" they said. Whatever. What does that mean to a person who has spent her entire 40 years in a warm climate? It means wear socks. Did you know there are different kinds of socks that do different things? Gloves too. Did you know the cute ones (socks or gloves) don't really do anything? Yeah. Sigh. But I digress.

I am afraid to fly. I don't know when this started. I used to be excited to fly, but sometime in the last decade, I've gotten really skeptical about our ability to do this. Math is likely involved in the success of air travel. I want to be at Kripalu, but I don't want to fly to get there. All week I've been going through all the possible disaster scenarios. Chuckling bitterly at the ridiculousness of putting on a seatbelt only to die in flames upon impact. Wondering just what that little oxygen mask is capable of doing. I know flying is the safest way to travel (but I don't understand why.) Keith keeps saying to me, "NBA. Think about how often the NBA travels." I think about how much Barack traveled during the campaign. How much Clinton and Stacy travel for What Not to Wear. How many pilots and flight attendants have long careers flying five days a week. Doesn't matter. My teacher, Cain, says no one can die before their time. I'm still on the fence with that one.

In yoga tonight, I thought about (besides the fear of a fiery death) why I don't like to fly. The first thing that popped in my head was the lack of control over the aircraft. We were doing hip openers when I laughed at myself. Yes, I have no control over the aircraft. But I also have no control over my car (which feels so much safer to me, though I know the odds of an accident on the drive to Phoenix are greater than falling out of the sky). I have no control over anything. What I have when I drive is the illusion of control, and that illusion, at least for me, is stripped when I board an airplane. Flying makes me stare into that abyss while collectively agreeing that it is possible to travel in a tube safely at 30,000 feet. Of course, if I follow this thread, I have to recognize that the pilot has no control either, which is less than comforting, so I'll stop now and say that I am getting on the plane Saturday morning and I am flying into the great white north where apparently it's OK to put big flat snowshoes on your feet and go walking for fun. My contact at Kripalu told me cheerfully, "Make sure you make time for snowshoe hiking!" Ah, she doesn't know me. I don't make time for hiking on flat surfaces when it's 68-72 degrees. But she meant well, and I'll take pictures of people having "fun".

But, since I am getting on this plane, and it does run counter to my intuition, I thought I'd post a list of the things I will miss when I die (which hopefully will not be on an airplane in the next ten days).

Note to Cain: If I die this weekend and it is NOT my time, I'm coming back to haunt you something fierce.

When you think about what you'll miss, you naturally move into a place of gratitude for what you've experienced and what you have. I think that's a pretty fine place to be in when you board the metal tube. Here, in no particular order, is my list.

- honeysuckle
- Carolina pulled pork BBQ
- sleeping with cats
- watching a student have a breakthrough (or a breakdown, which usually leads to a breakthrough)
- listening to my characters
- kick ass really beautiful sentences
- the way my mother looks when she's asleep in front of the TV
- the sound of an acoustic guitar
- old-time gospel music sung by African-American soloists
- the blues
- autumn
- the smell of Keith's neck
- crying at the end of a novel
- discovering something new
- the full moon rise
- Wrightsville Beach
- the MUNI in San Francisco
- office supplies (especially pens and notebooks)
- coffee
- Warrior 2 pose
- sunflowers
- putting together awesome outfits!
- velvet
- the way my teeth feel under my tongue
- color!
- pine cones
- my Mac computer
- the New York Times Book Review
- touching -- human skin to human skin
- tomorrow