Monday, July 19, 2010

Reflections from New York

Some of my students: Writing Warriors! **

I spent July 4 - 9 teaching at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. This was the third summer I taught a workshop there.  (I'm the one kneeling on the cushion next to the monkey. You can see the wrap around my foot). As is the way of things, I fell down the steps after yoga on the Thursday night before I was scheduled to leave.  It was really a damn fine yoga class, too. My shoulder didn't hurt for the whole ninety minutes. I wasn't resisting the sweat and the heat of the studio. I felt ready to go to New York, open to listen to what the class would tell me.

Splat. Apparently I was resisting the stairs.

Now, I'm not a person who falls. I am not a person who runs, stands on my head, jogs, hikes, moves particularly quickly, or otherwise engages in high-risk behavior that might cause me to fall. Imagine my shock as I find myself lying on the gravel parking lot behind the yoga studio. No blood. Good. No bone sticking out. Even better. Fine. I'm fine. I'm a Southern Finn. I'm always fine.

Hmm. Ankle's hot. Swollen. Hurts. OK, hurts a lot. Still no blood. Still no bone. Ice, ibuprofen and a bandage-wrap and away we go with a 48.5 pound suitcase into JFK. Onto Airtrain to the subway. Onto the E train and off in Queens to visit some friends for a few days before heading to Rhinebeck. Can't really go up and down the stairs, especially not with a 48.5 pound suitcase. My fabulous friend meets me at the stop and carries my suitcase over the turnstile. (You should have seen it -- chivalry, darlings, is not dead). He gives me more ibuprofen and a pillow for my foot. He draws me a map to get to Herald Square and the next day I hobble forth into Manhattan (3 stops) and promptly find a seat in the new green folding chairs NY city has placed in the middle of the street in a few intersections. 

What New York City looks like when you're sitting down in a cool green chair 
watching everybody else scurrying around

Aha. Insight. I hurt my ankle so that I could not spend money in the shopping capital of the world. Gotta love bold-faced irony. I waddle down to Union Square and sit on a bench and watch everyone else seeing the city over their Blackberries and iPhones. I feel a little insecure with my phone-that's-just-a-phone, so I keep it hidden. I watch the sidewalk chalk artists and listen to a relatively awful band. I watch the squirrels jump from trash can to trash can. I am in the middle of the middle of New York City and I really can only sit and watch it all. How perfect.

My fabulous friend Rick and his fabulous cat Truman, 
who only sort of came to love me by the time I left (but I know he misses me now!)

The temperatures begin to climb on the day I left Queens. My friend once again carries my suitcase (which has remained 48.5 pounds because I was thwarted in shopping-nirvana) over the turnstile and onto the E train and into the Port Authority and down two flights of stairs into the center of the earth where the Greyhounds and Trailways buses lurk. If I could have erected a statue to him in Central Park I would have done so that day. I promise the next time I visit I will be able to walk.

It's hot. I'm early because I'm always early. Finns are fine and early. A Trailways driver comes over and sits next to me. "You're the yoga writing lady," he says. 

"I am," I say, realizing this is why I'm early in the dungeon of the Port Authority.

"I recognized you from last year."

He proceeds to talk to me about yoga philosophy. About Jung and Joseph Campbell. About meditation and Paramahansa Yogananda and the trappings of a spiritual path. "It's all fascinating," he says, "but it's not real. It's all stories. You the only one you got to listen to to figure it out. You got to always make sure you're hearing what's inside you. Of course, that ain't all that either."

A New York City unintelligible announcement comes over the loudspeaker. He understands it. "Gotta get to the bus," he says. "I like to go to the fifth floor of the library in Manhattan. Not too many people up there. I read everything." He points to his skull. "I read everything and then I let it go." He stands up and shakes my hand. "See you next year, yoga lady. Teach them how to let it all go."

And that becomes the focus for the week. The temperatures hit 100 degrees. The humidity slaps us silly. My non-air conditioned room only has hot water in the shower (not even kidding). I walk over two miles a day from the cabin to the dining hall to the classroom. My ankle hurts, but it's OK. I walk slow enough to see a garter snake, slow enough to watch the groundhogs, slow enough to see the flowers. 

My class shows up ready to let it go. I don't have to do anything but listen and make a space. They are more ready than they know, and as we shake and dance and write and talk, they know less and feel more. They know less and write more. They move from brains to belly and surprise themselves. They don't surprise me. I know the bus driver's words are true: You the only one you got to listen to to figure it out. They don't need me. They need the space, the silence, and for the moment, the illusion that they need me, but by the time we pack it up on Friday, they've shattered that illusion all on their own and are ready, fierce, and breathing.  

My green monkey friend Keezel surrounded by the offerings from the class. **

On Friday, I'm ready to go home. I'm ready for air conditioning and I'm ready for meat. And maybe a little wine.  Delta Airlines, however, was not ready for me to go home. I find myself with a choice of being stuck in Newburgh overnight or stuck in Detroit overnight. I've spent the night on the floor of the Detroit airport before, so I opt for Newburgh. Delta Airlines apologizes, but they will not pay for a hotel because they are not responsible for the weather. It is indeed hard to argue with that statement, so I do not.

(Note to airlines: Why are all your hubs in areas of the country where there are always weather issues? Not sometimes weather. Not maybe weather. Always weather. All four seasons. All the time. Thunder. Lightning. Blizzards. Ice. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Just a question.)

One of my students is also stranded. We decide to get our bags back and go to the Hilton and have meat and wine and conversation (oh yes, and air conditioning, and a shower with water pressure, and a bed with memory-foam and 500 thread count sheets and THREE pillows). We eat our meat and drink our wine and talk for hours until it is time to go to bed. 

My airport shuttle will be leaving at 4:45 a.m. With any luck, I'll be back in Phoenix by lunchtime with far more gifts than my still-only-48.5-pound suitcase (take that, airline weight limits!) can hold. 

Me at the Hilton, Newburgh, NY, July 2010 **

**Photo credits to Writing Warrior Kathleen Schmieder
Check out her website


Jeannie said...

I'll bet you would not have sat in that chair on the streets of Manhattan had your ankle been okay. And that bus depot man, what a gift of his words!!!

Glad you made it home, Laraine.

Alma Luz Villanueva said...

Stop worshipping that monkey...your trip, the time, sounds wonderful... Almaluz xoxo