Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friendship, Loyalty and Ruth

Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Ruth 1:16

One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Ruth, not the least of which is because Ruth is my middle name. The Old Testament, to scholars and historians and theologians alike, is full of metaphor, mixed with historical fact. The Old Testament is filled with images, thoughts, ideas and stories of long ago. These books are debated in Rabbinical schools and Christian seminaries. The places mentioned are among the most popular digs for archeologists. The life lessons, and ethical teachings, are still prevalent today. And yet, it's the book of Ruth that speaks to me the most, out of all the Old Testament books. Why? Because, it speaks on the level of deep abiding friendship between women, a sense of undying loyalty and perserverence in the face of wretched adversity. It's not a complex theological idea that will take me a lifetime to wrap my head around. Rather, it's a lesson in how women could, and should, behave towards one another.

Ruth is an extraordinary woman. She leaves all she knows to join her husband's household. When he passes away, and when famine threatens the land, Ruth, and her sisters in law, are released from their mother in law, Naomi, to return to their own families, where they might find a better chance of food, shelter and future promise. But, Ruth refuses to leave her aging mother in law, and instead becomes the bread winner, quite literally, insistent upon honor and kindness and a shared burden. How many women would show this type of character today? Ruth's example of standing together to face hard times was unique in her own time, and it's unique today. Her example of selflessness and hard work for another person inspire me beyond measure.

Beginning in middle school, girls are often pitted against one another. They compete, they establish territories and they torment weaker ones with 'Mean Girl' tactics. Girls can be far worse bullies than boys....because the words and manipulation they inflict can last a lifetime. They spread rumors, they malign and they instigate fear. Sadly, this behavior can continue on until adulthood with some women vying for attention by making others around them "look badly" to their mutual friends. They are competitive, back biting and disloyal, at times. It would never occur to these girls (and women) that our bond as women, and as fellow human beings, should transcend jealousy, bitterness and hostility to make oneself feel better.

Thankfully, I've been blessed with wonderful women friends. Most of us are all around the country (and the world) these days. But, with help from the internet, I'm able to glean support, kindness and friendship in much the same way Ruth gleaned in the fields. If there is one harsh reality that I wish I could spare my own daughter, it's the pain that can be inflicted from other women. And yet, underneath the pain and throughout the lessons learned, other friendships can be formed that are lasting, true and free of competition. I don't believe we can fully appreciate the trueness of loyal friendship without feeling the sting of false.

Like Ruth, I hope to become a woman of unquestioned loyalty, hard work, kindness and commitment. I hope to show love when I'm afraid. I wish I could be as courageous, in the face of uncertainty, as she was. I hope I can pass these traits on to my daughter. I hope that she will know the kind, but more difficult, path will build character far deeper and much further reaching. It doesn't make hurt caused by other girls go away, but it does make you appreciate those who are loyal all the more.

And, I'm most definitely proud to be Ellen Ruth. I have some big shoes to fill.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bringing It Home

The expression "Bringing It Home" has many connotations. It happens to be the name of a PBS television series about fine dining in your own house. It's a gymnastics term for sticking at landing. Bringing It Home can mean winning a trophy, acing a test or bringing revitalization to a community. In the news lately, it can often mean bringing lost jobs back to the United States. I hear people talk about this expression in reference to their work; meaning they'll tackle the projects at night. I have seen people use this analogy when they mean to make a very solid point in an argument. I have also heard it used by dancers, as they finish a particularly rough bit of choreography. And yet, lately, I've been hearing this used more and more as a Yoga term. What does it mean, in a yogic sense?

For many people who practice Yoga, the entire adventure centers on going to class. In addition to regular classes they attend, many people will even go on retreats, take weekend intensives, go to resorts where yoga is offered or read Yoga Journal. Still, the very essence of Yoga isn't about going away, but rather, about coming home. I love teaching classes, and I love attending them. It's a wonderful feeling to walk into the studio and, in either role, know that the next 90 minutes will be all about the practice, without distractions and full of intent. Attending regular classes is very important: without them, we don't learn about proper body alignment or correct positioning. We would fail to connect with other people, in various stages of yoga development. We would be islands to ourselves.

Still, Yoga isn't just about attending class. Part of the wonderful feeling we have in class isn't meant to spent there, and only there. It's meant to be brought home, to share with those we love and to continue on the journey at home. An analogy I heard from a master teacher recently was, without a home practice, it would be like taking a piano lesson once a week, and then ignoring music for the other 6 days.

Unrolling the mat at home is very difficult! In my case, as focused and single minded as I am in class, I am completely distracted at home. I look at the laundry that needs to be folded, the bills that need to be paid, the dust bunnies under the chair, the meals that need to be cooked, and yes, the distraction of checking the computer. I'll give myself 10 minutes to get my to-do list partially squared away, and before I know it, I'm emailing with my cousin, and the dogs are lying on my mat. The dogs are another distraction: they see Human Mom lying on the mat, and then believe it's "Pile on Mom Time!".

Still, a home practice is essential to overall yoga well being. It connects your home self to your studio self. It gives you more opportunities for growth. It also teaches you enormous self-discipline. I am working very hard on the clutter in my house, but it is hard to escape from completely. So, I've created one small niche in which to practice: my front hall. I realize this sounds a little bizarre, but it's open, it's got wonderful natural lighting and a good mirror. I orient myself to face the door (and not into the house and its nagging projects) and just give myself whatever time I can squeak out. Interestingly, what began as 5 minutes has turned into 30. In summer, I practice outdoors, which is far more amenable to a home practice, unless, of course, you're an avid gardener. In this case, I'd suggest to orient yourself away from your weeding.

Even if you don't practice Yoga, I believe that the idea of bringing home the very best of ourselves is crucially important to our well being. How many people do you know are passionate about their work, but come home miserably? If we can share that spark of our authentic, loving and compassionate selves with the people closest to us, we have a much better chance of enjoying our 'home' personas much better ourselves.

Just make space in one corner of your house to let your true self shine....even if it means turning away from the dust bunnies.

"If one desires a change at home, one must be the change before it takes place." Gita Bellin

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Peaceable Kingdom

My home is, in many ways, an oxymoron. It's a home filled with animals who shouldn't get along, but love each other. It's a very busy household with each family member heading off in different directions, and yet still exudes a sense of sanctuary...most of the time What my goal for my home has always been is the "Peaceable Kingdom", where the lion can lay down with the lamb. Or, in my case, the German Shepherd with the Holland Lop Bunny and teenagers can feel comfortable enough to consider our home a nice place to hang out safely.

It never fails to amaze me how well Mackenzie, my 120 long haired German Shepherd can get along with Pancakes, the 5 pound rabbit. Most mornings, when I let Pancakes out of her cage, the first thing event of the peaceful day is Mackenzie and she touch noses, and Mackenzie gives her the morning kisses. Then, the bunny will follow the German Shepherd around all day. It's not unusual to find both of them curled up at my feet, bunny resting between the safe shelter of the dog's front paws. What should be a 'no contest' death match between predator and prey is a love relationship between two different species who find comfort in one another's presence. Mackenzie treats the bunny with maternal affection. Pancakes has no fear of the enormous dog but rather, believes her to be a safe and sheltering place to rest.

An artist I have long admired is Edward Hicks, who painted a series of "Peaceable Kingdom" pieces in the late 18th century. A Quaker, Hicks' beliefs were new to both himself and to the new nation. His religious beliefs were so new and were so unusual, many people were not sure quite what to to make of him. Even his fellow Quakers found Hicks' beliefs in a beautiful world in which all could live in peace and harmony to be anachronistic. Because I have a love for Colonial folk painting, and because I also have a heart for Hicks' code of ethics and beliefs, I find his work to be prophetic, in many ways, of the modern Yoga movement, as well as more tolerant denomations of Christianity. Interestingly, Hicks' work is quite well known, but his life story is not. His goals of justice and purity of spirit shine forth from his paintings and certainly hold true today, as much as they did in the late 1700's.

In Yoga, we do strive to find a peaceable kindgom. We hope to create, within our hearts and within our lives, a sense of justice and hope. We hope to build bridges between ourselves and those with whom we have disagreements. We hope to create, within our own hearts, a deep and abiding love for all those around us. We hope to let go of our frustrations, anger and resentments, and in their place, allow new possibilities to take hold. We hope to breathe in the light of goodness and release negative emotions and prejudices. We believe in trying to create a peaceable kingdom both within our hearts, and also within our lives.

If a German Shepherd can do this with a little bunny, I believe anything is possible. We just have to try.