Friday, September 30, 2011


A brahmin once asked The Blessed One:
"Are you a God?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"Are you a saint?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"Are you a magician?"
"No, brahmin" said The Blessed One.
"What are you then?"
"I am awake."

~ Zen Lesson

While I was lying prone in bed last week, I came upon this lesson former yoga teacher training books. I'd first read the quote about 8 years ago, just as I was beginning my R.Y.T. program. I found it to be enlightening, encouraging, helpful and compelling. I was excited to become a yoga teacher! I knew that I'd be "living what I love" in my new career. The extraordinary concept that I could actually get paid to practice yoga, and to share it with others, was still a novel concept to me at that time. I studied the wisdom words by everyone from Moses to the Buddha to Thomas Merton. My program of study was especially wide ranging. Not only did I learn an incredible amount about anatomy, but I also apprenticed in the 15 most common forms of yoga practice. It was both overwhelming and edifying, and unnerving and revitalizing. I had phenomenal teachers and surprisingly nasty ones. I met lifelong friends in my classes, as well those who took competition (in a 'supposed to be non-competitive' atmosphere) far too seriously. Through all of these lessons, over my 8 months of study and practice, I kept coming back to this first lesson: I asked myself if I was "awake". I felt, at that time, that I was. Every cell in my body told me that I was finally waking up from my lifelong trance-like slumber.

Now that I'm older, more jaded and, hopefully, a bit wiser, I've learned how unconscious I am most of the time. My thoughts of being awake, 8 years ago, are laughable in their innocence. What I had envisioned to be a "one time alarm clock moment", even a 'born again' experience, was simply not the case. I think that, regardless of one's religious beliefs or personal practices, the art of being awake isn't a singular event: it's a lifelong goal for which to strive. I can't possible undo decades of absent minded and heedless practice overnight. In our culture of repetition and unconscious habit, it's tough to remain mindful in everyday life. I seem to operate on auto-pilot through much of my day. Before I'm even aware of it, I'd gotten up, made breakfast, gotten the kids to school, taken the dogs for walks, done the errands, paid the bills and even taught a yoga class, all without consciously being aware of these actions. Living mindfully aware, in the present moment, requires a great deal of practice, I've discovered. I tend to get so caught up in daily routine that my sense of being 'awake' slinks into the background.

I'm no longer a yoga instructor. Unfortunately, my surgery last December made that career impossible to continue. However, I have discovered a bit of a tough lesson: even being a yoga teacher did not make me immune to falling into daily amnesia. I often taught six classes per week, in addition to my other 'jobs' as mother and wife and committee member and volunteer. My daily practice and classes simply were added to my 'to do' list. 

It's my hope to find a bit of time each day to "wake up". I'd like to have my reflections and prayers become more than my 'wish list' of 'wants'. I would to get out of bed each morning not just stumbling towards coffee, but as a conscious experience of the new day being the precious gift it is. I truly understand my ignorance of 8 years ago as a wistful enthusiasm. I just hope I can poke that same hopeful, eager, but exhausted woman I was back then. Perhaps in my gentle (or even forceful) nudges to my psyche, I can revivify that former earnestness, but temper it with cautious awareness.

The alarm clock has gone off! I'm awake!  But I'm learning that waking up is easy. It's staying awake that's much more challenging.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Too much of a good thing

"Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?" ~ William Shakespeare, "As You Like It", Act IV, Scene 1

There are very few things in life I like more than curling up in bed. A cup of coffee by my side in the morning, or tea in the evening, my book, my snuggly dogs, a rainy day and my Netflix just all makes for sheer bliss for me. No amount of temptation can lure me away from the coziness that is my favorite space. To quote my cousin Lori, "I love my bed so much I could marry it." 

However, I have learned that even a sloth like myself has limits. Last week I had a lumbar puncture. The old fashioned way of referring to this procedure is a "spinal tap". Dear sweet heavenly radishes, but it was dreadful. After being reassured countless times about how simple, and painless, a maneuver like
 this was nowadays, it did not go well for me. Apparently (and in the 'who knew?' category), I do not have easy access to my spinal column. This is in part just how my body works. It's also thanks to my badonkadonk, which gives me a sway back. Regardless, a ten minute job turned into at least half an hour. And, I was left with a Post Lumbar Puncture Headache. This isn't a lousy "let me take some aspirin" headache. Oh, no. This is a "could someone be so kind as to remove my head from my body?" headache.

In order to avoid more invasive hospital cures, I was advised (even ordered) to take to my bed. I needed to lie completely prone (i.e., no beautiful, elegant pillows propping me up) for a couple of days. I was also advised that caffeine would be beneficial. Despite my pain level, I thought, "Hallelujah! I can do this! Lying in my bed all day long drinking coffee! That's my skill set at last!".  I mused, "Finally! A treatment I was born to do!". 

However, I quickly learned that this activity is, well, just awful. Not only am I used to sitting up while drinking said my caffeine sources, but I'm also accustomed to being able to move about when I feel like it. Despite my marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth, I did have nagging feelings about all the things I wasn't doing. The laundry was getting done! The kitchen hadn't been wiped down! If I forgot something at the other end of the house, it was a "no soup for me" moment.The dogs might be able to go outside through the dog door, but the pitiful way they kept bringing me their leashes showed me that their imprisonment wasn't any more fun than mine. While I did have my friend introduce me to "Dr. Who" on Netflix (a fabulous distraction), I really wanted to go into town. Even though my neighbor went to the farmer's market for me and brought me fresh vegetables, I wished I'd been able to go with her. I missed being with my family in southern New England. In short, the bloom was off the rose. My bed no longer represented a delicious sanctuary. It had become a prison with lovely pillows....pillows I could not use, by the way.

I'm up once more. It's slow and gingerly movement. I'm keeping an eye on the headache from hell. I have to monitor my time up and my periods of rest. I now find myself daydreaming about doing things like climbing mountains in Tibet or a safari in Africa. Just like the child who, when caught eating cake when she wasn't supposed to, and then being told to eat the whole thing, I have find I've lost my appetite for cake. Or, in my case, lying in my bed.

But, the hammock is looking positively captivating.