Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Opposite Day

Sponge Bob Square Pants, “great philosopher” of Nickelodeon cartoons, is actually quit funny for adults. I realize that a classically trained yoga teacher should probably consider Sponge Bob “beneath her”, but in all honesty, I like Sponge Bob. He makes me laugh. And, since TV largely consists of bad news that I can do very little to change, now and then it just fun to be silly. With Sponge Bob. Great theatrical imagery it’s not. But, sometimes, silliness overrides quality. In one of my favorite Sponge Bob episodes, the characters celebrate Opposite Day. If you normally say “Good morning !”, you would instead say “Have a crappy day !” If you have a cat that normally meows, it will bark instead. If you usually walk on your feet to work, you might try walking on your hands. It’s pure silliness, and obviously, these examples are cartoon inspired.

But, what would you do if you could create a real Opposite Day in your own life ? Imagine the possibilities ! If you are normally a shy person, you could make a point to be very outgoing…knowing that you’re putting on a “character”. If you’re overwhelmed and frustrated by your daily grind, you could cut out every single thing that makes you grumpy, and turn yourself into the picture of Serenity personified. It’s Opposite Day, so you would have permission to simply unload those commitments that overwork you. What about an exceptionally peppy person….like myself ? I’ve often thought about just making myself take a day to simply slow down and listen, as opposed to barreling over (and through) my day. If you normally dress very conservatively, perhaps you could spice your look up a bit. I’m not advocating going from Amish Schoolmarm to Lady of the Evening. But, look at some current magazines, think about getting a new haircut, or wearing an outfit that says “Hello !”, rather than fading into the background. By the same token, if you have a full force sense of style that is up on every trend, think about toning it down for just one day…dressing a bit more conservatively and reining in that overabundant look. You may be surprised by the reaction you receive to these changes. When George Constanza, a 90’s character on “Seinfeld”, made every single decision to the opposite of his normal choices, all of his dreams came true: he moved out of his parents’ house, found a girl to fall in love with and was hired by the New York Yankees for his dream job !

Opposite day actually has the potential to bring you great freedom. Because you are only making these choices for *one* day, you have a world of opposite possibilities open to you. I have long thought about offering my Yoga class in an Opposite Day format. I discussed this with my students today, and they loved the idea. We’re going to try it next week….we’ll be doing our usually Ashtanga based routine, but we’ll begin in Savasana, and end with Sun Salutations. I’m sure Yoga purists would be horrified. But, the fact is, everyone needs a little silliness in their life. The world can get awfully serious, especially during the times we live in. If something like Opposite Day helps break the monotony, I say “carry on !” The truth is, like George Constanza, we may actually learn to make some good decisions this way. By going in an opposite direction, we may end up in a wonderful new place. We may find that “shaking things up” is exactly what we needed to get a kick start in a new direction…even if it’s an opposite one. Ruts happen to the best of us, but Opposite Day may just be one way to shake us out of that rut. If nothing else, Opposite Day can be a lot of fun.

So, eat spaghetti for breakfast, serve French toast for dinner, and think about saying a hearty “Good morning !” to the person at work who is snarky to you. It’ll bring a smile to your face. And, you can wear pajamas to the market, just this once. After all, it’s Opposite Day !

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Life's a journey

Have you ever imagined just chucking your life as you know it, and taking off for the wide, open lanes to explore America ? With nothing but the wind at your back, and a devil may care attitude, just going, never knowing where you might end up that evening ? Honestly, I never had. I’m a planner. I like to know where I’m going, when I’m going to get there, and what my plan is for arrival. My mother, who is much the same way, once described this to me in this way, “We’re product people, not process people.” It was such a simple explanation for why I don’t enjoy the ride of the journey, but the destination.

I do love to travel. I am one of the few people who actually enjoys flying. Rather, I love being flown. It’s like a great big taxi. I’m even getting much more tolerant of long lines at the airport, always being singled out to look at my back extra closely (Seriously ? A mom from Maine ?), and don’t even mind waiting for my bags at Carousel 3.
So, what was it about “Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 states, 22,000 miles, 200 pairs of shoes, 2 cats, 1 poodle, a husband and a bus with a will all its own” by Doreen Orion that was incredibly appealing to me ? The author writes as I would speak. She hates camping, she hates hiking, she loves to live (and work !) in her pajamas, she’s an animal lover and she has cocktail recipes for every chapter. In short, she’s my kind of Jewish American Princess. Her unbelievably humorous take on this voyage is both internal and external: she describes her own personal transformation from her initial reaction of shock and horror to acceptance of honoring her husband’s dream. She then moves from grudgingly seeing the positive side of living on a bus for a year….she can wear her jammies all the time…to a deeper appreciation for her husband and truly “seeing” our country, not just ‘fly in, visit, and get out’ travel that I’m used to. The couples’ outrageous misadventures from a bus door, possessed by demons, swinging open at unsafe times to the bus’ high end overhaul’s amenities rarely working, makes for slapstick comedy, and a laugh out loud read. Doreen Orion is so funny, as I read the book sitting outside my son’s school for pick up time, I think the mothers walking by my car were sure I had multiple personalities. I could almost see them dialing 911 to say “There is a crazy mother in a tan SUV, who is laughing as everyone walks by her car. She needs help now. Send strong men in white coats !”.

Considering that I’m exceptionally claustrophobic, whine on even the shortest car rides and am all about the destination, why did this book make me consider wanting to do the very same feat as Doreen Orion and her husband ? I believe, partly, it was because I felt such a kinship to the author. Her own awakening to the journey being a destination, in itself, was appealing. I also thought it just sounded like fun. For the first time in my life, I wanted to throw the dogs and the killer bunny in an RV and go drive to Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and Yosemite. I wanted to make sandwiches while Jeff drove the rig, and wear slippers all day. I wanted to see new places and feel that sense of freedom by not being tied to the never ending projects of our house. What I began dreaming about, while reading this book, was not the soul crushing drone of the highway, but liberation.

I began researching luxury RV’s and bus conversions. I never said I fantasized about roughing it, by the way. What I discovered was astounding ! Most of these vehicles are more well appointed than my house ! I envisioned pulling into a scenic drop off, stepping out of my cherry kitchen bus and practicing yoga with mountain views in the background. I thought of Jeff and me, now a full year into our 2nd decade of marriage, reconnecting with both children happily studying at their respective college and prep schools. I watched HGTV’s special on the three most extraordinary RV’s and literally drooled at the thought of the whirlpool bath and master suite “to go”. I imagined stopping off to see the kids, and never needing to book a hotel room again.
Of course, reality did set in. At well over $1 million for a “simple” luxury RV, and with both gas and Diesel prices at their highest level ever, this dream has had to remain one for the foreseeable future. But, just the experience of allowing my thoughts to “go there,” to imagine possibilities I never could have guess I’d be interested in, was wonderful exercise in freeing my mind. And, it did teach me two valuable lessons: never say never, and maybe the journey is worthwhile after all….as long as it comes with satellite TV.
My Yoga teacher message to each of you today is: "Don't think about what you won't do; think about new possibilities." It doesn't even matter if these possibilities come true. Opening our minds to new horizons (both literally and metaphorically) can be a lesson itself.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Burn Pile

As is tradition for most northern New Englanders, we burn our leaf pile every fall. In the spring, we do our yard clean up of felled branches, dead trees, and anything else that hasn’t survived the long Maine snow season. Having two fires a year is not intimidating. My husband is the son of a fire chief, so I am certain we’re operating these piles with the greatest care and supervision. Because of this, we can also use the chance to throw things on the fire that are simply not nice enough to give away, and are burnable. The old wooden benches that my parents had 30 years ago were rotting and warped. We threw them on the fire. The kids’ old wooden playset was no longer safe, and considering our children are now teenagers, it was easy enough to take the useless pieces off to burn. (I should point out that the good wood from the playset was recycled into the bunny’s summer hutch). Our first living room set from “This End Up” that saw us through a couple of decades, first inside, then out….it was busted and useless. But, it made for wonderful fodder for the fire.

Unlike the Bonfire of the Vanities, in which 15th century Italians were urged to burn any objects that would lead them to the sin of self-centeredness, or the famous Nazi book burning so lavishly depicted in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, our burn pile does not signify hatred. Rather, they’re a cleaning out of items that are unneeded. (And not environmentally hazardous).

If we look at the burn pile metaphorically, we can intuit what would like to rid our lives of that is weighing us down. Can we let go of toxic relationships ? What about unhealthy habits ? How about needless spending on more material “stuff” ? Let’s go further…can we rid ourselves of rage, of bigotry, of jealousy and of greed ? Can we toss ambivalence and bitterness and contempt on the fire ? Let’s think about what else we can release the flames: impatience, ingratitude and fear of change. What about just letting go of snarky responses to those we love most...and usually bear the brunt of our bad day grouchiness ?

The ancients used to believe that burning brought purification. The fires brought renewal after they burned out. One of my favorite myths is that of the Phoenix: the bird that will live, will burst into flame, and then will be born anew from the ashes. Just as areas of new, green growth can be seen after a fire has ravaged a canyon, so can the areas of our lives be cleared out of negativity. If we toss anger onto the flames, we can cultivate compassion from the ashes. If we relinquish our need to “keep up with the Joneses”, we can feel deep gratitude for all that we’ve been blessed with. And, if we can surrender ambivalence over to the bonfire, releasing it forever, we can ignite a passion within ourselves to create the reality we choose.

So, if you had a bonfire, to rid your yard of the debris of your life, what would you burn ? And, more importantly, what you cultivate in its place ?