This young girl’s deposition in this NYT article broke my heart. I can count on one hand the women I know who DO NOT have a similar memory that has been shared in confidence. I’m not writing to rage against prep school culture. The finest human being I know graduated from Saint Paul’s, so it is not the institution, it is all of us. Most of us females who think we live our lives to earn respect mistake appeasement/approval for respect. Listening to this girl describe how she was trying to be polite, agreeable, and accommodating towards this boy, the school “spirit”, and trying to be a good host to her visiting parents, broke my heart, made my head explode, and reminded me of every woman I know. Even when we practice the yoga, we are trying to show, prove, and believe that we are doing our best. The thing is that we have a hard time believing it is our best if others don’t concur. Why else all those selfies, practice descriptions, and fretting whether we will be stopped at an asana in public before we usually stop? In my case, I always have to frame aspects of my practice to be dedicated to something other than myself. Not just something greater than myself, that is not what I am addressing here, otherwise I would not feel suffering. I mean always thinking about not letting my teacher down, showing this new student that “anyone can do ashtanga” so they come back, remembering that I use $170 of our monthly budget to pant and huff so I’d better mean it, etc, etc. My friend who graduated from St Paul’s is like a brother to me. He moved away and his wife and I are friends but not close. I always initiate reunions and always remember the birthdays. I think he feels like crap every time I wish him a HBD because he remembers that he forgot mine. So this year, I am letting go. I do not love him any less, I just don’t want to feel that I have to keep on doing it to call myself a good friend or a good person.
One of the benefits from having a blog is being able to use it to discharge uncomfortable reactions to things you are reading online, both in social media and in the news. Here are some of my gripes:
I am an immigrant. I did not arrive fleeing gunfire, rape, extortion, or starvation, while seeing people who sat next to me drown or die of thirst. I cannot compare my deepest fears or insecurities to that reality. That trivializes their terror and their desperation.
I am a woman. A hispanic woman with a hard to pin accent with white skin and an uppity mouth. I would have never ended up in a jail cell in Texas for not putting out a cigarette solely because of the protection that my skin color affords me. I cannot compare the danger and anxiety of being a black human being in this culture to the worst calamity, to any obstacle that could befall me while being white. I could pass as hygiene challenged weird lady sitting on a bench if homeless while the black equivalent would at the very least be questioned or evicted from the bench.
Everybody is talking about white collar stress at amazon. I do not remember a comparable hoopla when warehouse workers were dropping on the floor from dehydration. There was a piece in the NYT about how cities and towns pay their bills by incarcerating the black and the poor and using their bail to pay their expenses. One guy spent a year in jail as he was walking out of a bodega with a soda and a straw and a cop arrested him because the straw qualified as drug paraphrenelia. I’d like to hear someone tell me that they worry about themselves or their kid being stopped and hauled away while walking out of a bodega. That article is not getting a lot of play outside of black twitter. SO when I read anything about someone passing as black to qualify for this or that, I become quite constipated and aggravated. I saw a photo today of Trayvon Martin from when he attended space camp at NASA. Trying to figure out why the newspapers did not use that photo when he was gunned down.
All this rant triggered by that photo of Trayvon and another of a desperate Syrian father trying to reach shore with his tiny son who was wearing a pretty usless life jacket.
If you have trouble getting motivated to do your morning (or midday or afternoon or evening ) practice. just remember that there will (or already have been) times when you need and miss it so bad but there is not a free moment to hide and do even a half assed Surya A. Then when you finally think you are free to go and do it, you get slammed with a 24 hour whatever pox it was, due to the stress and tension you were holding for 168 hours. All I know is that for the next few days I will remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to stand on my mat every day. I really get it when people think a consistent, 90 minute practice is an upper middle class person’s luxury. If you have to care for someone else’s basic needs, keep yourself clothed, fed, sheltered, and CLEAN, it is very tempting to say FTS I’ll just do some jumping jacks, some crunches, and some push ups for 20 minutes before work or go for a quick run after work, and call it a day. Those who carve the time for a practice before their care giving duties begin have my respect and admiration, and I am not just talking about those with a 9 to 5 gig (do those still exist?) I am talking about those people who are in a situation who think of a trip to the bathroom as an actual break.
I belong to a FB group called Ashtanga Home Practitioners and I have no idea why since I need a minder-space holder-babysitter-cheerleader-foster parent to just stand there while I give it my best shot (because accountability) most mornings. Yesterday I read a comment where the person shares the boredom they feel when the reach the Janu Sirsasanas. And I am like YAY! I made it to the Janus, where I can fold, touch with my head, clasp my hands on one side and my wrist on the other and look like everyone else for once! Before the Mari struggles, hahahahaha. Moving right along, I have discovered (maybe re-discovered what is obvious to many) that stress can trigger a hot flash that can masquerade as a heart attack. It is hot and humid around here already and teacher saw me really overheating last week and suggested I do some sitali pranayama and then resume where I left off. This worked until today when I thought my heart was going to jump out of my throat. What a coincidence that yesterday I decided that I will go to Miami to spend the week and see how to find consensus with the rest of my family on how to take care of my mom who fractured a vertebrae while sitting (yes) on firm couch.
I am about to get all profane and unfactual, but I write short so no big deal. I get all Whitney Houston emotional when I think of Guruji at this time. A man I never met who decided to leave us and his body on my birthday. I get emotional when I remember thinking oh gawd, when Oni the sub at my first ever yoga class said “my teacher Sri Pattabhi Jois…” and marched me through half primary. She drove 2 hours into and out of Manhattan to study with Eddie Stern before my teacher Val opened her shala. Val started her practice in Encinitas two decades ago with her teacher Tim Miller. Tim now comes to teach at her place and I feel honored when he helps me out. She took her family to Mysore so she could study with Guruji until her boys could no longer miss school and other activities that make our children thrive. I get emotional when I think that she is now able to return to Mysore as an empty nester this year. I feel pumped when Sharath and Saraswati visit and feel a rush like a teenage concert goer when Sharath says “Samasthiti” in those huge rooms. Yeah, pretty much like when I first heard a Joni Mitchell song, or David Bowie, or Leonard Cohen. And when I first heard them I could not understand what they were saying but I knelt and bowed because I knew that it was (and still is) extraordinary and meant to make me feel so fortunate to partake. Are they all gurus and shamans? I have no idea. I am still hoping someone hits me in the forehead so I can feel that shot of shaktipat or the equivalent, like in those pentecostal tent revival services. I would prefer a hug but will not get overly choosy. So, I am just so down with having a day like Guru Purnima where we can collectively geek out on the opportunity to express our gratitude for feeling grateful that we did not decline or ignore the opportunity to learn what Guruji shared.
Folks, I am arriving to the part where my practice shows me that telling the story of my practice is becoming something sort of unrelated to my practice. I am at the point where I realize that I practice to interrupt the vrittis which later return here (and elsewhere) as the story of what happened, or what I think happened, or worse: What I think will happen next. Other times it is an exercise in standing out or self identifying as being in the correct team (Ashtangi) or as separating myself by being against exhibitionism, through asana, or intellectual mental gymnastics, and against commercialism through those two methods as well. None of those identifications are necessary for completing a practice. My story only means that what I narrate concurs and flows with the stories from others, and their stories resonate with me. It only means that the stories of others, mess up my narrative and create dissonance. My like or dislike of their stories or mine do not make them accurate or real. If I could describe what really happens during yoga practice (so tempted to put an acronym here) it would be an attempt to describe the finding of space that remains open and unfilled.
It’s in the 90’s and everyone is sweating a lot. So please, please, please, do not do what I did yesterday and prepare a huge pile of roasted scallions to put on top of your thai rice and your guests’ halibut. This morning I started frowning and self righteously thinking, “what”, WHO? smells so overwhelmingly bad?? It took a couple of more down dogs to figure out it was me. If it was revolting for me to be near myself, I can only imagine what I put my neighbors to the right and left of me through. I ate before 5PM yesterday evening and went to a 10 AM practice, so FYI those fumes stay around awhile. Best leave the alliums for the night before your rest day, phew!